Category Archives: Books & Equipment

POURING AND STORING – it’s gas!

Shop-2

Enjoy the wine you desire without pulling the cork

 

  • Explore your collection glass by glass, without committing to any bottle—or wasting a drop.
  • Get more adventurous with your food and wine pairings, and compare vintages and varietals.
  • Sip from your finest bottles, noting subtle changes in the wine’s evolution.

 

Oh I so want one of these yokes! Thanks to Martin Moran and Simon Woods for the heads-up.

 

Don’t pull the cork — just pour the wine – Business – The Boston Globe.

Coravin™ website

FIRST CRACK AT NEW ROASTER

Puffing Lily 1Lily 2

Just done the roast with ‘Puffing Lily’ aka The Hooky Monster. Glad it’s over with. I was very nervous because roasting with this beastie involves ‘real flames’. Also, fully manual control is not as comforting as my old HotProg (programmable version of the HotTop) where if things start to go tits up you can just press a switch and abort the program.

The Huky 500 is a beautiful beast, reminiscent of a collaboration between one of the old locomotive designers – George Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel – and Adolphe Sax, one of the 12 or so famous Belgians, maybe with a touch of Heath Robinson thrown in. It is robust and nicely engineered, mainly in stainless steel with an assortment of lovely wooden, maybe rosewood, handles. It has a bean trier device that actually works!

I roasted 300g, scaled up from the 250g of the HotProg, my most regular blend.

For the record it was:- 150g Nicaragua Finca La Fany Bourbon Washed + 100g Costa Rica Herbazu Honey Process + 50g Ethiopia Kebel Kercha Guji Natural. All supplied, as per usual by the excellent Steve at www.hasbean.co.uk

Coffee was roasted to just short of 2nd crack. At the end everything happens very quickly – “Check the beans, hey, they’re okay; turn off the heat; remove the ‘saxophone’; empty the chaff; swing the bean dumper handle (remembering to hold the bean collector under the exit port); place collector over fan and switch fan on, if it isn’t already; turn off drum motor…” all in less time than it takes to say ‘Costa Rica Finca Nardo herbazu yellow washed honey process Villa Sarchi’ or similar!

Then, phew! chill. Take a sip of your favourite tipple.

Lovely even roast as the pic shows. The shot is a tad soft because it was a hand-held, no flash 1/20 at f2.8 and my hands were surely shaking!

Nice glass of rosé in the garden before I clear up, methought.

 

Later….

 

I WAS enjoying the rosé until the flash flood rain came in through the Yellow Room ceiling. If there’s one thing I hate it’s dilute rosé!

Yes, that first roast was a tad scary. With the old HotProg you slung the beans in at around 70-odd ºC and after around 17 mins a beep-beep announces the arrival of 212 ºC (a failsafe for those eejits who can’t be arsed to watch the display) whereupon you press a ‘Continue’ button. Shortly after which the roast finishes – 216 ºC-ish on most of the profiles I use. And the thermometer is fairly steady (makes me wonder how accurate it is) unlike the digital job on Puffing Lily’s bean mass probe which yaws constantly,up a tad, down a smidge, whoops, up again, needing constant tweaking. With the Huky you don’t bung the beans (300g) in until 240 ºC which had me worrying about what the combustion point of coffee is!

At the end of the roast things happen very quickly. You need to whip off the ‘saxophone’, empty the chaff from the collection tray and use the tray to collect the beans when you pull the ‘eject’ lever.

 

You might say its the difference between driving a DART train and the Flying Scotsman in days of steam locomotives. A completely different mind/skillset needed, not to mention constant attention. But absolutely no chance of dying of boredom.

Now, where did I put the tranquilizers….

 

Kudos and big thanks to Mr.Kuanho Li, designer and builder of the Huky 500, who replied to all my emails promptly and answered all my questions – even the daft ones! The roaster arrived from Taiwan in perfect condition in only 5 days.

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BLOG The Man with The Hat is back

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that my postings on forkncork have been rather sparse of late.

Yes, I have been busy setting up the food section for The Sunday Times ‘Sunday’ magazine. And writing my two articles a week.  Judging wine comps and attending press junkets. But the main reason for abandoning, albeit temporarily, my first love is that I’ve been burning the midnight oil finishing a novel. ‘Girls, Me and D.J.P’ is now ready to see the light of day. It’s in the hands of a lit’ry agent, hopefully en route to publication – the Comte de Champagne is on ice. But if the buggers don’t like it I intend grabbing back my maius opus and publishing it privately, probably as an e-book.

Anyhow, there’s a short synopsis and a few excerpts on http://www.erniewhalley.com if anyone’s interested.

A cameras

You don’t need a big posh Canon – camera advice for bloggers

I’ve been a photo hobbyist since I got given  my first serious camera as a fourteenth birthday present. A Zeiss Ikon  ‘folder’ that took a mere eight shots to a roll of film, far cry from today’s digital wonders. It had an f4.5 lens, very slow by today’s standards. Being something of a tech head  I’ve subsequently probably owned as many cameras as Tiger Woods has golf clubs. Ranging from a tiny Minox ‘spy camera’ to a massive Bronica EC that weighed 2.5 kg and sounded like a gun going off every time the shutter was pressed. I’ve photographed friends’ weddings with a pair of hefty twin lens reflexes slung around my neck as backup to the one on the tripod – an extreme take on the ‘belt-and-braces’ theme.  Won a prize from The Scottish Tourist Board for a pic  of a ‘best bull’ competition at Moffat Show. Directed food shoots for Food & Wine, Intermezzo and other publications. I bought my first digital camera back in 1999. Somehow, I’ve managed to amass 13,242 (and counting) photos on my computer’s hard disk. So while I’m not a pro, I’m not a dummy either.

The recent food photography seminar, organised by The Irish Food Bloggers Association in conjunction with Bord Bia (or was it the other way round) was a brilliant event.  I gleaned a heap of nitty-gritty from both Sharon Hearne-Smith and Jocasta Clarke and, equally important, remembered a lot of things I’d forgotten. At the same time I came away feeling that, had I been a virgin snapper, I might have picked up a few misconceptions. Like I should immediately go out and buy an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, preferably a Canon, shoot in RAW and process my pictures in Photoshop.

This article is not about ‘How to take better food photographs’. It’s about not spending more than you need to. The three cameras in the picture above are my own, all of them in current use for ‘something or other’.

The diddy one on the left is a Nikon Coolpix S8000. It cost €175. It has a tiny sensor, offering 14 megapixels. It has a 10 x zoom lens, far longer than I’d need for any kind of food photography. It takes impressive photographs provided you don’t need images bigger than 10 x 8 inches. This is certainly far bigger than the 550 pixel wide shots I need for my blog. Big bonus is, it’s inconspicuous, great for taking shots in restaurants.

The one in the middle is brand spanking new, a model released only a couple of weeks ago. It’s a Fujifilm X10 and it cost me €500. It has a larger sensor than the 8000 and a quality, all glass f2 lens, a moderate 4 x zoom.   The f2 lens will allow me to use it hand held in fairly low light without camera shake and without having to up the ISO rating (high ISO speeds degrade the image). Used at the maximum aperture it will allow me to fade out the background.  Used with care I should be able to get decent image quality up to A3. I’m confident that this will become the camera I’ll use 90% of the time indoors and out, unless I need (a) the versatility and (b) the impressive quality of the big rascal on the right.

This monster  is a Nikon D2Xs, which I bought second hand shortly after the new super-sexy D3 came out. The D2Xs was top of the line of  of  Nikon’s professional cameras until they introduced the D3 which has what’s come to be regarded (erroneously, as it happens) as a ‘full size’ sensor. For the record a D3X will set you back around €6500, body only. The lens on my D2Xs is an f1.4 85mm – which translates to 105mm as the D2 series have a slightly smaller than ‘full size’ sensor.  It’s a beautiful lens, pin sharp with a capacity  for dissolving the unwanted background into beautiful patterns of faded light that can look really artistic. The 85mm focal length and the very wide aperture of f1.4 make it possible to focus selectively on parts of the subject. Drawbacks? Yes, the lens is bloody expensive and its closest focusing distance is not much under 3 feet.

Any one of these cameras will, with a bit of thought, skill and care, produce nice photos of food on plates, like any car will get you from A to B. Some, though, do certain things better or easier. Think Fiat 500 for nipping into town, big SUV for the school run and – but only if you can afford it – Ferrari for fun and pose.

Some good advice

If you haven’t yet got started on the digi trail but are dying to produce blogworthy shots of your lovely food I’d suggest you set aside a budget of around €450 and buy IF SIZE + WEIGHT ISN’T A CONSIDERATION  a base model DSLR from a reputable manufacturer. I’d suggest Canon (EOS 1100) or Nikon (D3000) and here’s why. These companies have been around a long time and, over the years have manufactured a wide range of lenses, using the same mount as their present day digital cameras. Spend €400 on the camera and buy a used 50mm f1.8 lens, of which there are plenty around. It will set you back, I’d say €50-60. This will be a much better lens in quality terms than  than the cheap plastic-lensed zoom that comes bundled with the camera. Especially for food photography. The sensors used in these cameras (known as DX-sized) are smaller than the size of a 24 x 36mm frame for which the lens was designed but much larger than those used in a compact, hence higher resolution. This will give you a moderate telephoto aspect – about the equivalent of using a 75-80 mm lens on a 35mm film camera. This longer effective focal length, combined with the wide (f 1.8 ) aperture will give you the option of having the main subject in sharp focus while, at the same time, blurring the background detail – take a look at any cookery book and you’ll see what I mean. The 50mm lens, used on a Camera with a DX sensor also makes a great portrait lens. Keep the zoom for your holiday snaps.   One of the most difficult tasks facing the photographer about to buy his or her first digital camera is to address the issue of image quality. No other hi-tech field has as poor a track record when it comes to defining the virtues of the products they sell as the digital camera industry.

Megapixels – and why they aren’t the Holy Grail

A manufacturer normally issues one statistic as an indication of quality, the number of megapixels the sensor captures — about as meaningful as the maximum possible speed indicated on your car’s speedometer. Or like saying only people whose partners have king-size willies can have great sex.

Image quality is down to a combination of factors. In rough order of importance these are:

The optics

Here’s a really good easy-to-understand piece on camera lenses http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/camera-lenses.htm

The sensor

This will tell you why pixels aren’t everything http://gizmodo.com/5155942/giz-explains-why-more-megapixels-isnt-always-more-better

The processor - which includes the ‘firmware’ that manages the conversion from beams of light to binary numbers. But remember – your average food blogger is not looking for shots suitable for printing A4 and larger in a magazine or for a cookbook. He/she merely wants pictures that will enhance their blog. Sure a ‘fast’ (which means low ‘f’ number) lens is desirable so you can do that ‘selective focus’ thing. There are a few mid-priced non-SLR ‘enthusiast’s compact’ cameras around that will achieve this – like the Olympus XZ which has an f1.8 lens, the Samsung  EX1 and my own X10 all of which cost between €399 and €550. The flashguns on these cameras are pretty Mickey Mouse but on-camera flash doesn’t work well for food photography unless you bounce the flash or shoot into one of the special shades or brollies available. Most professionals these days prefer to use natural light anyway. Some of you may already own digital SLR’s and if you do, fine. If so, don’t be suckered into trading up.

What  the Professionals use and Why it’s Irrelevant

Jocasta Clarke at the seminar said “Most pros use Canons”. This is not exactly true. Professional usage, worldwide, is split roughly 50/50 between Canon and Nikon. The reason why most pros in Ireland use Canons is because the Canon advertising and marketing operation here has always been more switched on than its Nikon equivalent. Furthermore, professionals use Nikon and Canon because the build quality (of the pro series at least) is a given. But also because these two makes have a wider range of lenses and accessories than the rest. There is absolutely no reason why your Sony, Olympus, Pentax etc should, in capable hands, not take just as good photographs as the guy with the Canon.

One thing you should have is a tripod. Go for a good sturdy one unless you are intent on using it on location wyhen you’ll need one you can carry. If you travel a lot on foot, it’s worth noting that the handy Manfrotto monopod can allow you to take sharp photos in low-ish light and double as  a walking pole.

The  RAW  Deal

Simply put, most digital cameras are capable of saving in two modes, some in three. One is as an image – a ‘jpeg’ as it’s called. Some but not all of its characteristics can be modified using special software – atb the risk of degrading the image. The second is as a RAW file. RAW is saved as a string of characters. When the image is modified certain of these characters are replaced with others and therefore the image does not degrade. Many camera manufacturers have their own version of RAW so it’s worth checking if the RAW conversion program you decide to use supports your camera. Most do, except for very recent models which can take some time to find their way into the latest version of the program. The third image designation is a ‘tif’ – an image of the highest quality usually produced by creating a RAW file, manipulating in software and saving in the .tif format. This will be a huge image and will eat memory in camera or computer. Your average blogger need not concern themselves with tifs. Most cameras can record RAW files  and jpegs (in a choice of  qualities) simultaneously. I’d suggest you shoot in RAW + the largest jpeg you can fit into your blog. That way, if you get lucky and end up with an image that doesn’t require any software jiggery-pokery you can slap it down on the page and get on with real life!  

To process raw you will need a RAW developer/converter.

This is a software program that does three things: 1. It allows you to tweak the image by increasing/decreasing exposure; changing the white balance and messing around with a whole load of other factors that will, hopefully, ensure you end up with the food shot of your dreams. 2. It enables you to convert the files from RAW to jpeg or tif images. 3. It also allows you to change the image file’s size so it can be incorporated into your blog without using masses of bandwidth.

But…

The learning curve for some of these programs is pretty steep if you are to exploit their capabilities to the full.

Nikon and Canon have their own programs, which do not necessarily work with other manufacturers’ RAW files – a point to bear in mind if, like me, you are a multi-camera user.

Many  professionals use the Adobe ( a software manufacturer) programs – Lightroom and Photoshop, which can be chain-linked. They don’t come cheap and there is a steeper learning curve than Nikon Capture NX2 or its Canon equivalent. Capture NX2 is excellent and fairly intuitive but it won’t handle Fuji or Canon RAW formats.

There are many cheaper programs that will do the job.  I’ve also used a program called Silkypix for years, with a variety of cameras and got excellent results. THe version designated ‘Pro’ is particularly good. Many people reckon Silkypix is  not user-friendly but I find it logical enough and nice to use, with lovely skin tones if you do any portrait work. A single user license will set you back about €90. A program called ACDSee gets very good results and costs only $79, a fraction of the Adobe product. 

Most of these are available for download on a 30-day trial basis.I’d suggest you download a few and see which you like before investing cash. There are a few free programs too. Anyhow, that’s about it. There are better people than me around who can show you how to take decent shots. But I hope this will be helpful to some.

Finally, as encouragement to all those who don’t have the latest megabucks pixel muncher… SOMETIMES, YOU JUST GET LUCKY! 

Ciutadella harbour, Menorca. Early evening, late July. A convenient wall did duty as a tripod substitute. The light was right, beautiful luminosity. Framing was exact – there was no need to crop. No critical details lurked in the corners where lens definition can fall off. I took this shot, a jpeg, on a Fujifilm camera boasting a mere 3.3 megapixels.  Naomi our designer, used it, unprocessed, as a double page spread in F&W Magazine. As I said, you can get lucky.

D&C menu cover

BOOK REVIEW Dunne & Crescenzi – The Menu

“We really cook very simply. Remember that the methods and ingredients have been used for generations and in the past there were hardly any cooking facilities and definitely no microwave ovens, so things had to be easy. The key to the whole thing is that in the ‘old days’ food had much better flavour and simple treatment had wonderful results. But all is not lost. Look out for good ingredients from small, conscientious producers and you’ll find all the flavour is still there. There are a few ingredients that I cook with all the time…my paint box of flavours. Our cooking is remarkably simple. Reading our recipes it looks like everything is flavoured with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and flat leaf parsley. In fact many things are transformed by these simple ingredients, so that their flavour and texture are enhanced.”

The quotation comes not from ‘Dunne & Crescenzi – The Menu’ but from another book I hold very dear, Mary Contini’s (of Valvona & Crolla) ‘Dear Francesca..’. There are many similarities, both are a family affair into which the cookbook buying public are permitted a glimpse; both celebrate the simplicity of Italian cooking; both are written by people on a mission to put the delights of Italian food out there on the high street.

I’ve been a fan of D&C since they first opened their doors in Dublin’s South Frederick Street, happily perching on a barrel top by the bar when they couldn’t offer me a seat in order to devour the bresaola and rocket or good minestrone for lunch. I’ve whiled away many the afternoon in there, putting the world to right with friends over a bottle of Marisa Cuomo’s wine. Nowadays, I’m lucky to have a branch just a five minute walk from home – the multiplicity of outlets, now spread as far as Kildare, is a tribute to Eileen Dunne Crescenzi’s remarkable energy.

A Dunne & Crescenzi outlet is not ‘like Italy’; it IS Italy, as much an outpost of that patchwork quilt of a republic as Sicily or Sardinia. This is apparent in the book. This is no cheffy tome, there is no flirting with fusion, no replacing mozzarella di bufala with roquefort or St.Tola, no larding of pizza with pineapple chunks. Come to think of it, there isn’t a single pizza recipe. The book is simply a celebration of the food served in D&C, recipes and all and that food is an extension of Eileen and Stefano’s home kitchen and those of their relatives, friends and the Italian chefs they employ. It’s so much a family affair that Eileen and Stefano’s daughter, Federica, contributed the excellent photographs.

The recipes are there not for you to admire; they are for you to cook with and, as befits the Italian idiom, there’s nothing in the book that even a beginner would find difficult to replicate. In fact you could pack it with your son or daughter’s belongings when they leave home and be sure they wouldn’t starve. Of course you’d have to issue the stricture that in order to cook proper Italian food you need access to top class ingredients.

I’d like to think I’ll cherish this book – I’ve known Eileen and Stefano for years – but I know I won’t. It will end up on the shelf above the stove, well-thumbed, grease spattered, cover torn, notes scribbled in the margin.

‘Dunne & Crescenzi – the menu’ is also a book for which I’d loved to have written the foreword – damn Graham Knuttel – but then he did live in South Frederick Street so I’ll concede he has a prior claim!

‘Dunne & Crescenzi – the menu’ is published in ireland by Mercier Cookery. €19.99 in hardback.   HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

turkey title

BOOK REVIEW ‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ by Leanne Kitchen

I’ve been anxious to get my hands on this book for some time now and the minute I slipped  ‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ out of its padded envelope I knew it had been worth the wait. Fair dues to Murdoch Books; considering the author, Leanne Kitchen (a trained chef turned food writer, originally from New Zealand and now living in Sydney), is not a major media squeeze, the quality of production and finish is remarkable, from the sensuous padded cover, to the simple-but-stylish motif that adorns the edge of the recipe pages, not forgetting the photography. I’m not only talking about the ‘food porn’ although Amanda McLauchlan’s photos, shot mostly with available light, will have you salivating for sure. Leanne herself is no slouch with a camera and her own shots, taken on her travels, bring insight into this magical and, for many, mysterious country. Her felicitious name, by the way, is no nom de plume – “I married a guy called Mr.Kitchen”, she insists. Savvy typography gives the book a classical feel and allows easy access to the recipes.

‘Turkey…’ combines a cookbook and a travelogue. The recipes, in the main are simple, with most of the dishes well within the capability of the average home cook. There’s nothing super-cheffy or twiddly here. What you get is the real Turkey, light years away from the sad kebab shop offerings we’re fobbed off with in Ireland. As Leanne points out, Turkey divides into seven extremely diverse regions, each with its own culinary tradition.  In Istanbul, she says, mezze are elevated to the status of art. Within the pages of this book is a rich and varied cuisine with which the majority of home cooks will be unfamiliar and one that will reward exploration.

Leanne takes you  well off the ‘Turkey for Tourists’ route and writes beautifully about places many will never visit. “My new friend takes me on a ferry ride to Akdsamar to see the thousand year old Cathedral of the Holy Cross an architecturally-important pink sandstone church erected by the Armenian Catholics…  From the island we look back over the sparkling lake to the vast open expanse of land on the other side where farmers are fashioning dried grass into huge round bales of hay. Behind this farmland lies a string of snow-capped mountain peaks. It’s a place of dramatic and breathtaking beauty and it’s fitting that we finish our day trip off by gorging on the local delicacy, inci kefali or pearl mullet. “

Food, always back to food, great. I’ve already got the recipe for Yoghurt and walnut stuffed eggplant with tomato and pomegranate sauce on the go for tonight’s dinner. My quinces, now barely thimble-sized  will be under scrutiny until autumn, earmarked for incorporation into a sweet cheese pie. The slow-roasted lamb with apples poached in pomegranate will get a run out soon – how delightful is the instruction  “To serve, pull the lamb apart into chunks.” I’m going to get massive use out of this book, I can see.

To sum up, ‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ has got to be an early contender for Cookbook of 2011 and currently, for me at least, it’s the one the others have to beat and one I can’t recommend  or praise highly enough, as both a cookbook and a damn good read.

‘Turkey – Recipes and Tales from the Road’ is published by Murdoch Books at GB£25

Footnote: Leanne Kitchen, by her own admission, is by inclination a lone traveler and uncomfortable in groups. This is untrue. At Tasting Australia 2010 I was in her company for two days, both of us part of an unusually harmonious mob of food writers and chefs. Leanne, with whom I share an enthusiasm for hats, contributed a good deal to the travelling experience, not least with her on-bus rendition of Rogers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ which I hope to hear her reprise in 2012.

 

fishy cover

BOOK REVIEW – Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook by Martin Shanahan

Ah, fish, the great Irish paradox.

We live on an island surrounded by fish but, by and large, we shun them unless they come battered or breadcrumbed.  This is because (or so the theory goes) we were forced to eat it on Fridays we don’t really like fish and don’t eat it now we don’t have to. Killarney Restaurateur Paul Treyvaud told me that, of almost 100 covers on Good Friday this year, he only sold a dozen fish main courses. We have some of the best fishing grounds in the world but our fishing fleets are depleted and it’s harder than ever to earn a living as a fisherman.  Bily Joel’s poignant ‘Downeaster Alexa’ might as well have been written for Burtonport or Duncannon as for New England’s Outer Lands. Other nations, however, do recognize the excellence of the fish that abound in Irish waters and will joyfully take the cream of the catch. Dublin, our capital, a city on a bay, doesn’t have a fish restaurant worth the name. I could go on.

The most frequent truism you hear about fish is that we love to eat it but we don’t like to cook it. Fish is commonly perceived as fiddly and difficult. Smelly too, in its raw state.  Hence, we will eat bass, sea bream, salmon, lemon sole etc in restaurants, as long as it comes to table filleted but we won’t buy it from a fishmonger and cook it at home. These are of course ‘truisms that aren’t necessarily true’.

Martin Shanahan’s new book, a companion to his two successful TV series, aims to change this culinary aversion. Fish, he says, is “nature’s fast food”. You can cook a piece of fish as fast as you can cook a sausage and if you can cook a sausage, you can cook fish, that’s his proposition and the recipes in the book go a long way to proving it. Martin, for those who don’t live in Ireland, is the proprietor of Fishy Fishy in Kinsale, Co Cork, a successful enterprise now in its Mark III version that majors on giving diners fresh fish without the fear factor, skinless,  boneless and wholly enjoyable. If you haven’t eaten there, that’s your misfortune, you really should make the effort. Martin is a crusader on behalf of the less popular species – ray, gurnard and haddock to mention but three.

The recipes are tasty but, by and large, uncomplicated. Plain but not too plain, with a fair bit of fusion and ethnic-influence. From fisherman’s pie to salmon with hollandaise sauce; squid with chorizo to potato, leek and mussel soup; avocado with prawns to Thai-style pollock fishcakes, there’s nothing here that the modest home cook couldn’t manage with ease and that’s the great strength of this book. No other fish cookbook I’ve seen demystifies so efficiently. Buy this book and your most difficult challenge will be finding a decent fishmonger.

Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook is published by Estragon Press, John and Sally McKenna’s imprimatur and although soft-covered and plainly produced it doesn’t have that low-budget feel that many publishers seem to think de rigueur for non- ‘A List’ Irish authors. Typesetting and layout have come on in leaps and bounds since Estragon’s early ventures. The book gains considerably from the sensitive photography of Kevin O’Farrell too.

Fish has undeniably lagged behind meat in its appeal to cookbook writers. Had we had Martin’s book twenty-odd  years ago it might have had the equivalent impact of, say, Alistair Little’s ‘Keep it Simple’ which for me was a signpost on the road to Damascus. But, better late than never, as they say. Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook deserves a wide audience and the news that, at time of writing, it has climbed to 9th place in the Irish Best Seller List is heartening indeed.  Hopefully, further onwards and upwards.

Martin’s Fishy Fishy Cookbook is published by Estragon Press, price €20

Footnote: The ‘big one’, the Fish Cookbook for the Really Keen Cook is still out there. Maybe some chef will take up the challenge and write the blockbuster that will do for fish what Dennis Cotter’s ‘Paradiso’ series did to enhance the status of vegetables.

 

 

joseph gadgets

ON TEST: Two new kitchen gadgets.

Joseph Joseph market a range of kitchen gadgets – from manual lemon squeezers to spud peelers, from the bright and colourful to the downright bizarre-looking. This week forncork availed of the opportunity to test two of them.

The first, and the simpler of the two, falls into the ‘Quite A Good Idea’ category. A round plastic gizmo, available in 3 colours, the Spaghetti Measure has an adjustable diaphragm, based on the principle of a -camera shutter. You simply adjust the click-stop to 1,2, 3, or 4 portions and the aperture adjusts. The spaghetti sizer could be very worthwhile and calorie saving for people like Ernie who says he measures by eye but always tosses in a few extra strands “just in case” and ends up eating the lot!

People with king-size appetites will be reassured to know that the diaphragm has half-stops between 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. The Spaghetti Measure seems well made and durable and is dishwasher safe. It costs €8.95

The other gizmo, the Rotary Peeler is a three bladed peeler/slicer encased in a flat, round plastic shell. Lift up and twist the disc in the centre and you have the instant choice of a conventional potato peeler, a julienne maker, cutting even, narrow strips and a blade that cuts pretty, thin serrated slices of the vegetable of your choice. The spud blade is sharp and keen cuts easily and the slices are not too thick – nothing worse than finding you’ve only got half the potato when you’ve peeled it. The other two blades are handy and should aid presentation, making it easy to create cheffy embellishments.

However, the round shape makes the peeler quite difficult to hold, making peeling a quantity of potatoes an arduous task and we certainly wouldn’t recommend it to people with very small hands. We did like playing with the other two blades. Still, scratch our heads though we might, we couldn’t see the sense in having the three objects in one unless maybe you were camping or caravanning and needed to save drawer space. Except that none of us think we’ll ever be making a julienne in a tent.

Again, the 3-blade peeler seems well made, of sturdy plastic and all 3 blades are stainless steel. Easy to rise under a tap and is also dishwasher friendly,the Joseph Joseph Rotary Peeler costs €14.45.

Joseph Joseph kitchen accessories are stocked by Arnotts, Dublin. There may well be other stockists in Ireland.

Loose Birds spread

BOOK REVIEW: Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern

 

Game seems , thank God, to be making a comeback. My local Dublin butcher has, in season, venison, pheasant, partridge and mallard. Rabbit, which disappeared from the high street for years is now back in the shops with a vengeance. Yet cookery books dealing exclusively with game are few and far between.

Angela Humphreys’ ‘Game Cookery’ was first published back in the mid-eighties and takes an unashamedly traditional approach.

‘Fat Lady’ Clarissa Dixon-Wright, one of cooking’s great characters whom I had the pleasure of interviewing when I was editor of ‘Food & Wine Magazine’ gave us ‘The Game Cookbook’ in conjunction with Johnny Scott. This one is a massive statement for espousing the ‘wild and real’ produced at a time when our culinary aspirations had got very fey, wimpish even.

Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies’s ‘Game: A Cookery Book has got some good reviews. I haven’t read it but , among my culinary chums the main complete seems to be that the recipes are quite labour intensive – personally I don’t find anything wrong in that. It gets a lot of plaudits, particularly for the step-by-step instructions and the photography.

None of these books has quite the flavour of Andrew Pern’s ‘Loose Birds & Game’ which, between its tactile covers is rampant with  ‘personality’. Anthony Hodgson’s classy layout and design has resulted in a tome to treasure. In the hands the book feels gorgeous; there’s a textured, padded silk cover, based on a sepia-toned photograph of a wild bird’s feathers. The inside pages are printed on heavy matt stock, which lends an attractive ‘retro’ feel. In contrast layout and typography are bang up-to-the minute, logical and easy on the eye, helping the reader to follow the recipes. Everyone I’ve shown the book to says ‘Loose Birds & Game’ would be a lovely book to own and they are dead right.

There’s a Foreword by Michel Roux and an Introduction by TV personality/chef Brian Turner. From then on the exuberant enthusiasm of author Andrew Pern takes over. Andrew is the chef patron of the Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire, now the recipient of a Michelin star. Loose Birds & Game is the  follow-up to Andrew Pern’s critically acclaimed, multi-award winning first book, Black Pudding & Foie Gras. You soon find, if you hadn’t guessed after reading the ‘nudge-nudge’ title, that Andrew is one of those chefs who believes in living life tothe full, ‘work hard and play hard’ seems to be his mantra. He’s a Yorkshireman, a countryman, a denizen of the moors and fells, ‘coveys of grouse whistling overhead’ and ‘the honeyed perfume of coarse heather’ are a huge part of his heritage. On to the recipes, many of which involve local products like the kiln-smoked Yoadwath Mill ham that Andrew combines with Rievaulx red-legged partridge and Cumbrian speck. Though the presentation is ‘cheffy’ – unsurprising as this is the food that won him his Michelin star there is little that a reasonably competent home cook couldn’t manage. I don’t think this is a book for culinary virgins anyhow – those who are currently cooking their way through Delia or Rachel Allen’s repertoire are unlikely to be tempted to cook game but there are abundant thought-provoking ideas for the keen cook to mull over. I’ve already wowed guests with an adaptation of Andrew’s pan-fried wood pigeon breasts with fig tatin, prune and bacon rolls and spiced juices. When my own figs come in to season in early September I foresee this dish getting a regular outing. Next up is the smoked pheasant, savoy cabbage and beetroot terrine. There are are few innovations, too. I’m itching to make the liquorice gravy Pern used in his fallow deer pie. Plus one or two interesting drinks – like the gooseberry spritzer and wild cherry chocolate brandy. Nor has Andrew Pern left out finned game – there’s a particularly appealing sea trout ballotine. And I like his game pie.

If I have one small quibble it’s that the gorgeous photographs – mainly by Drew Gardner of whom I hadn’t heard – would be done more justice by printing on at least semi-gloss stock. But that’s a personal thing and, overall, Loose Birds & Game is a book I’d be more than happy to own, one that I’d get good use of, as would anyone who likes this rich, properly textured flavoursome food.

Loose Birds & Game by Andrew Pern is published by Face www.facepublications.com at sterling £39.99 or you can save £12 by purchasing from the website http://www.facepublications.com/books/buy/loose-birds-and-game/

Rasam 011

ON TEST Tefal Actifry

How good is the Actifry? Ernie Whalley tests the kitchen gizmo that claims to cook a kilo of chips using less than a tablespoon of oil.

The Tefal Actifry, with well over a million in use around the world, has been a huge success for the French kitchen electronics giant.

The gadget had its birthpangs in a desire to cook chips with the minimum of oil and it took a massive amount of co-research between Tefal’s own technologists and those from French universities, plus five generations of prototypes before the quest,  could be achieved in a commercial version.

The Actifry cooks using a combination  of heat and blown air, a sort of hairdryer GTi turbo. The chips must feel like Man U players subjected to a Fergie tirade after a 4-0 defeat to West Ham.

Though it comes packaged with a 160 page book, replete with recipes and health advice, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the primary function and the one for which the Actifry is best suited, is to fry potatoes. Yes, I’ve cooked  a monkfish Thai curry in its capacious pan; I’ve egged-and-Parmesaned sprouting broccolli spears and charred them nicely; even thrown rashers, mushrooms and a couple of tomatoes in it when I was too lazy to wash a grill pan and rack (works fine, gets the fat nice and crispy and keeps the meat tender) but when the chips are down the Actifry is there for frying them.

I tried the risotto recipe. It was, frankly, terrible. And, given the 32 minute cooking time I can do it faster in a large pan. Nor was the quick Bolognaise sauce anything to write home about – with some things there’s just no subsitute for long, slow cooking.

When I first announced, on the forum of  http://www.forkncork.com , my acquisition of  the Actifry I got a sarky message from a chef who said something to the tune of “Yes, and it takes a fortnight to fry a kilo of chips”. Not so, friend. It takes about 40 minutes (less for lesser quantities – like a microwave it seems to multiply the time as you put more raw materials in – half a kilo takes around 25 minutes) and the eventual result is better if you peel, then soak the spuds to release some starch and then dry them. So it’s slower than my normal method, which is to fill a big wok half way up with corn oil. But then you don’t need to stand over the chips while they are cooking – with the Actifry you can leave it to get on with the task while you undertake others. And, ultimate plus point for me, there is no smoke and very little smell. There’s a noise but less than my espresso machine and coffee roaster – less than a Magimix, too, I’d say.*

Methodology? As I’ve said you peel, wash and dry your tatties and cut them into the desired size and shape. Chips of varying sizes, sauté slices, small cubes it will handle them all. Then you open the Actifry by pressing two buttons on the front and load them evenly in the pan. Taking the green measuring spoon provided, you sprinkle or smear  the appropriate measure of oil or fat ( 1 tbsp to a kg) over the potatoes, close the lid, set the timer (start off by using the times suggested in the book – if in doubt add a few minutes more, you can always abort the process, and switch on. Then you can set about making your sauce, pan-frying your steak or pouring yourself that G&T. There’s a warning bell that lets you know when there’s under a minute to go. Unlike ‘real or I should maybe say ‘conventional’ chips they aren’t time-critical to a minute or two – handy if you are plating up as you can leave the spuds in the Actifry until the last minute.

The Actifry will work with most, if not any, edible oils or fats. The Derrycamma rapeseed oil – test on the website – made brilliant chips; health freaks please turn away but I made the most superb sauté potatoes using goose fat. I cooked chips in 3 sizes as a tester – guests preferred the mid-sized (approx 10mm x 10mm) to the fatties.

Cleaning’s a cinch. Everything can go into the dishwasher but I prefer to give them a quick swab in hot soapy water, rinse, dry and return. Anyone who has ever worked as a KP will bless the Actifry. I’m a bit dubious about plastic parts too but the Actifry seems robust, at least nothing has fallen off yet.

To sum up, I love the Actifry. I’ve cleared a regular space for it on my countertop, promoted from the ‘other ranks’ parking space atop the kitchen cabinets. Last night I made brilliant spicy wedges – you can chuck the cumin, chilli, coriander, paprika or whatever in along with the oil. I’d maybe be a tad wary of turmeric, it tends to discolour plastic.

Chips, sauté, wedges, cubes, bring ‘em on. Low fat, no  smoke, no smell, so it won’t get into the Guinness Book of Records for speed frying. So bloody what!

*Just measured the noise level – 66 decibels at 3 feet, so won’t hurt the ears.