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Meat

Meatballs – they are not the most challenging thing to produce. Start with great meat, add some decent aromatics and be sure to serve them in a tasty sauce. If you do that, everything is bound to turn out fine. Fine, that is, if you don’t ask your daughter to choose between Thai and Italian. I made that mistake and she punished me for it. When I mooted the meatballs idea, she immediately said “Mmmmmmm, in a nice tomato sauce”. As I have already posted Italian style meatballs, my suggestion that I needed something new for the blog didn’t go down well. But she didn’t leave it there. 

Pork with Juniper (6 of 9)

You can see it now. The backdrop is the inside an old red-brick building housing a gleaming modern copper still. The guy, wearing skinny jeans and an old check shirt, is mid 30s with a beard of which Grizzly Adams would be proud. He is holding a glass up to the light, as if he is inspecting a rare diamond for clarity. He’s not, he’s looking at one of the easiest to produce spirits, gin.

Sticky Pork Cubes

Many, many years ago, my great aunt Anna passed away. She was on my mother’s side of the family and a pretty fantastic woman by all accounts. She left to my mother, (amongst other things), a fine bone china tea service. Despite my being only a callow youth at the time, I well remember the beautiful translucent cups and delicate plates. The story went that the only person to whom tea and cakes had been served on that set was the Archbishop of Armagh. Back in the day, he was a man of great influence in Irish society. Having such a service was a rare thing. We really didn’t appreciate it. It spent most of it’s life in our house gathering dust on a basement shelf. I tell you this because there needs to be a good reason for any Irish person to get the good plates out. This easy to cook oriental delight is a great reason. So, with distant memories of Great Aunt Anna’s tea service, I present you with Sticky Oriental Pork Squares

My eldest daughter has, as they say in polite circles, some issues. She doesn’t like gravy. As if that’s not bad enough, she claims to like sauces, jeu and reductions. So, when I am preparing our regular Sunday family dinner, her expectations need to be managed. Beef with a pan reduction is wolfed down while beef with a pan gravy will be rejected out of hand. As if cooking for my extended family was not difficult enough! So, when I decided to serve them with a leg of lamb with anchovies, thyme and garlic and a rich gravy, I knew that there would be a sales job to be done.

Recently, I had the great pleasure of making a presentation to the Associated Craft Butchers at their annual conference and exhibition in County Kildare’s K Club. My talk was titled “Can Butchers Fight Back?”. Independent butchers face huge challenges from a variety of directions. Life is hard for the average butcher. But, they are a stoic lot by nature (stoic is another word for grumpy) and are slow to complain openly. I hope that my talk gave those in the room something to think over. At the end of the conference, I was saying farewell to a couple of chaps from Irish Country Meats (they distribute lamb to the independent butchery trade in Ireland). The lads were clearing out their fridge and offered me a couple of lamb tomahawks to try. I couldn’t say no…

Last October, a bunch of us MIDRA (men in denial of the reality of ageing) went on a seven day cycling trip to the mountains of Southern Spain, taking in exotic, historic towns including Seville, Ronda and Granada. We also cycled up and down some huge mountains, some of our group conquering the Pico de Veleta, one of the greatest cycling challenges in Europe. The mountain is the third highest peak in Spain, and the highest paved road in Europe. Spain is a beautiful country and well worth the trip if you have the inclination. As in any group of men, there are leaders and followers. On the Spanish food front, our buddy Seamus is a leader. He has spent more time in that part of Spain, than the rest of us. Using his experience of the region, he took charge of some of our restaurant bookings. His thought, to give us some insight into local food traditions. One of the highs of the trip for me was the night we had the Spanish Oxtail Stew.

If you are planning a ‘quick dinner’, this is not the one for you. If you are thinking of buying a vineyard and making a quick killing, then look elsewhere. If you are buying beef shin and expecting it to be tender in anything under a working day, you are in the wrong place. However, if you are after an unbelievably tasty, flavour packed meal to please a crowd on a winter’s evening, read on my friend, read on. I’ll even tell you a bit about two of Bordeaux’s next generation of winemakers, from Kazakhstan, of all places.

Salt Baked Lamb (9 of 15)

There are lots of things in this life that appear to be interesting but remain untried. It’s not that I have led a particularly sheltered life. I’ve waterskied barefoot across lakes in County Sligo. I’ve ridden my bike to the top of Mount Ventoux in French Provence, I’ve drunk more than two gallons of beer at a sitting (not recently and not while on my bike) and I’ve managed to stay married to the one woman for the past thirty years or so. All of these (except the beer) seemed like good things to try. Yet, there are lots of other things that peak my interest but remain untried. Until last Sunday, Salt Baked Leg of Lamb was in this category.

I was in one of my favourite butcher shops recently. I was in my usual state of having no clue what to cook for the Sunday family dinner (a 25 year tradition in our gaff). My eye was drawn to some outstanding beef short ribs. Temperatures in Ireland hadn’t hit the “Oh I need comfort food” level and I was wrestling with my desire to get the ribs and cook them low and slow. I bought them anyway and took them home. Weather was pretty warm (or as “pretty warm” as it ever gets in Ireland in September). I needed an alternative plan. My store cupboard of Oriental ingredients came to the rescue and I concocted Oriental Beef Short Ribs. This is not an ‘authentic’ Oriental recipe in that it was devised by an Irishman in a bit of a flap about getting a dinner prepared. However, I defy you to find a tastier way of preparing beef short ribs in an Oriental style.

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