Category Archives: Books & Equipment

ON TEST – Derrycamma Farm Rapeseed Oil

Rapeseed oil comes from oilseed rape, a root vegetable and cousin of mustard cabbage. The name is derived from the Old English term for turnip –‘rapum’. It comes, as you’d imagine, from those bilious yellow fields that, to my mind at least, disfigure so much of the countryside in Britain and Ireland.

However, aesthetics aren’t everything. Rapeseed oil is a product we can make here that will compete on culinary terms with the likes of sunflower, corn and even olive oil. Or so ‘tis claimed. The protagonists for rapeseed oil claim a health benefit too. Compared to olive oil it has half of the saturated fat and a much higher (up to 10x) natural Omega 3 content, the one item in the Irish diet so often lacking.

To extract the natural oil from the seed, it is squeezed in a mechanical press without the addition of any chemicals or heat. Cold pressed means that the composition of the oil isn’t altered by heating. It’s essentially the same process they use to make extra virgin olive oil.

There’s a further ecological bonus in that the  seed husk that is left over (called ‘cake’ can be mixed with other cereals into a safe and nutritious animal feed. Alternatively it can be used as a low carbon, renewable fuel in solid fuel burners.

Okay, that’s the economic and ecological pitch, what does rapeseed oil taste like. The makers of this particular one – Derrycamma Farm near Castlebellingham in Co. Louth claim a “delicious earthy, nutty taste”, and say it’s suitable for dressings, stir frying, roasting and dunking. Indeed Derrycamma Fram Rapeseed Oil took a Gold at the 2010 Great Taste Awards.

Having lived with the product for a couple of weeks I have to say that, as far as a salad dressing goes, rapeseed oil, tastewise is not at the races. Far from being “nutty” I found it mucky, cloying and the earthiness the makers claim as a plus point was offensive in the extreme. What’s more, one of the things I most love about olive oil is, you can ring the changes. Switching from a light French one to, say, a Portuguese with its weighty mouthfeel, or a Greek oil exuding fruit and spice allows you to vary your dressing to choice. I haven’t tasted too many rapeseed oils for this purpose, maybe only 3 or 4 but the similarities seem more marked than the differences. Taste, though, is a subjective thing. You might actually  like the flavour of rapeseed oil or, at least, be able to put up with it in return for the claimed health benefits, plus the feelgood factor that comes from using an Irish product.

Where this oil really comes into its own is for frying. I’m not sure what the smoke point is, but it’s decently high, so nice for stir fries. Used for frying, the oil comes over as pretty neutral. Corn oil is excellent for frying but some of the brands impart offensive flavours, infusing the ingredients with same. It makes excellent sauté potatoes too and crisp roasties – with the caveat that for both these purposes when it comes to flavour there’s really nothing so good as goose or duck fat and yes, I’m sure there’s an army of dieticians out there prepared to have me burned as a heretic.

So, a qualified ‘thumbs up’ for Derrycamma Farm rapeseed oil. But it will never replace olive oil in my salads.


Co Cork: Drinagh Superstore, Skibereen; Lynch’s Centra, Crosshaven; Scally’s Supervalu, Clonakilty; Stuffed Olive, Bantry; Centra, Kanturk; Urru Culinary Store, Bandon.

Co. Donegal: Simple Simons Natural Food, Donegal.

Co Down: John Magee Butchers, Warrenpoint; Quails Fine Foods, Banbridge

Co Dublin: SuperValu, The Rise; JC Savage Supermarket, Swords; Select Stores, Dalkey; Treat, Imaal Rd, Cabra; Honest2Goodness, Glasnevin; Sheridans Cheesemongers, Dublin 2; Food Game, South Lotts Road, Dublin 4; Michael’s Food and Wine, Mount Merrion; Mortons at Park Place, Dublin 2; Mortons, Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh; Listons Food Store, Camden St; O’Tooles Master Butchers, Sandycove; Fleming Fine Foods, Dundrum Village; Centre; Woodstock Café, Dublin 7.

Co Galway: Sheridans Cheesemongers, Galway; Connemara Fine Foods, Oughterard.

Co Kildare: Nick’s Fish, Newbridge; The Good Food Gallery, Kilcullen.

Co Kilkenny: Knockdrinna Farm House Cheese, Stoneyford.

Co Louth: Hickey’s Farm Shop, Bohermomor, Ardee; Country Fresh, Dundalk; McAteer’s Food House, Dundalk; Stockwell Artisan Food, Drogheda; The Country Store, Richardstown, Dunleer; Food For Thought, Carlingford; Forge Valley Farm Shop, Termonfeckin.

Co Meath: Sheridan Cheesemongers, Carnaross; Hugh Maguire Family Butcher, Ashbourne; SuperValu, Navan; Callaghan Butchers, Bettystown; Nick’s Fish, Ashbourne; An Troman, Trim.

Co. Monaghan: Kirks Seafood, Castleblaney.

Co Waterford: Ardkeen Food Store, Waterford.

Co. Westmeath: CR Tormeys, Athlone.

Co. Wexford: Fresh Fields, Gorey.

BOOK REVIEW – Inside the Italian Kitchen

I really like this book, a collaboration between chef Marco Roccasalvo of  the restaurant Capo de’Fiori in Bray and Anne Kennedy of who, in her introduction, says “If you think some of his recipes are too simple to be excellent, then his (Marco’s) work is done.”

There’s a long and informative section on the Italian store cupboard, stressing the importance of using top class ingredients and giving a few wrinkles, hints and tips on how to choose and use them. Marco stresses the importance of matching pasta to sauce, for example and teaches you how to tell good mozzarella from bad.

The section on coffee is not mega-helpful; I can’t help thinking it’s a shame that the Italians, who invented that marvelous gadget the espresso machine, overlook coffee’s potential complexity of flavour in favour of the ‘big hit’. A lifestyle thing, I suppose – ‘drink your espresso and move on’.

And so to the recipes. Simple is right and none the worse for it. There’s nothing here that couldn’t be replicated by the average home cook and nothing that your guests wouldn’t enjoy. And, from first page till last, the author’s honesty shines through, contributing to the book’s authenticty.

‘Inside the Italian Kitchen’ would make a wonderful first cookbook, a perfect primer to teach young people away from home for the first time how to cook tasty, nourishing food with the minimum of fuss and bother.

‘Inside the Italian Kitchen’, €20, is published by and available from the restaurant, from bookshops and from the website.

BOOK REVIEW 'Boiling Point' by Nick Munier with Esther McCarthy

After three solid days of writing against the clock it was good to flop into the big leather recliner, feet up and read a book.

Nick Munier probably needs no introduction to Dublin Foodies but, in case you are from out of town or don’t watch Food TV, he is the co-proprietor of Pichet, one of the capital’s  more successful  restaurant ventures of recent years. He’s also the Maitre d’ from the  TV programme Hell’s Kitchen. Yes, the guy whose digital extremities occasionally disconnect from his brain with alarming results. Nick’s CV is pretty impressive: he’s worked for the Roux brothers ; endured several stints with Marco Pierre White;  in Ireland, he fronted the Byerley Turk at the K Club; had spells at L’Ecrivain, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and The Clarence and worked with Conrad Gallagher at Peacock Alley, as well as doing some consultancy work.

I nearly didn’t read the book. Four full pages of maudlin  ‘thank you’s’ from Nick and his co-author had me feeling like the man down the bottom of a treacle well, up to his oxters and rising in the sweet, sticky stuff. Still, I persevered and was glad I did. The book contains a deal of  Nick’s front-of-house philosophy, sensible enough to stand as required reading for catering students, pacey enough for the casual reader to enjoy. It kicks off with a brief personal history during which he follows his parents into the hospitality industry, finding early on that he preferred front on house duties to cheffing. His career has been largely divided between London and Ireland, where he met his wife, Denise. There’s an interesting account of his time at Peacock Alley and some shrewd observations on the bold Conrad (it’s not the definitive version of course; we’ll have to wait for that until Domini Kemp publishes her memoirs).

At several places in the book Nick nails and puts pop rivets into the notion that ‘the customer is always right’.  Those who complain unreasonably on his watch may find the table cleared in front of them, followed by a curt “Thank you and goodnight”. I enjoyed his astute observations on The Clarence, for which he has, like me, a great fondness. But though others may well find the behind-the-scenes glimpse of Hell’s Kitchen more riveting, for me the most interesting thing about Boiling Point is the  well-detailed relationship between Nick Munier and Marco Pierre White, which, fictionalised, could form the theme of a rattling good pyschological novel. Marco, with a Father Brownesque twitch upon the thread, seems to have the ability to lure back his wandering Maitre d’ from wherever the latter’s whims have taken him (usually Dublin). Nick for his part, while acknowledging Marco’s evil ways, seems happy to go along with them as long as they don’t impinge on his own self-esteem. Eventually, though, the forces of darkness are thwarted. There’s a final exorcism of Marco-Svengali, conveniently just before Nick opens Pichet. The ensuing chapter is appropriately entitled “I Want to Break Free”.

When Nick departs from the restaurant scene his writing gets less involving. At some point he needs therapy but his sketchy explanation as to why is not that convincing.  Then he gets what he calls a “eureka moment” and takes up painting. I would  like to have learned more about his personal muse but the art chat lasts a mere couple of pages before he’s on the trombone to Marco again.

The last thirty pages comprise  an  interesting blow-by-blow account of the birth pangs of Pichet marred only by a largely puke-inducing homage to those whom Nick name-checks as ‘the main critics in Ireland’.  Lucinda O’Sullivan is “hugely influential” and “likes to be recognised, hugged and looked after”. ” Tom (Doorley), the former restaurant critic for the Irish Times, is a restaurant God…”

Review by Ernie Whalley, atheist.

Boiling Point is published by Y Books in paperback, price €

ON TEST: Thermal Chef low energy cooker

Not often I’m impressed by a piece of cooking equipment. I’m a believer in buying the best, telling anyone who listens that “good kit doesn’t let you down”.

Hence I own sturdy, functional pots and pans, with handles that don’t wobble or fall off. Keen knives for all purposes, from filleting plaice to dissecting a deer. My espresso machine is of commercial quality. My coffee roaster, made in Korea, looks like something out of a Heath Robinson cartoon but is as dependable as the Swiss railway system. Lately I’ve bought the ice cream maker I’d always craved. Blini pans, crepe pans, woks, steamers, got the lot – in fact there’s not much I don’t have, or need. But lately a new piece of kitchen gear has insinuated itself onto my shelves.

The Thermal Chef is not a new gadget. The Japanese, who invented the concept, have been using them for years. Basically, it’s a pot inside a pot. The inner one, which you can place on the hob, has a close fitting see-through lid. The outer one is, in effect, an insulation chamber.

I’m using the Thermal Chef for stews and casseroles – like my classical boeuf a la bourguignonne in the recipe pages here or my favourite carbonnade Flamande; for making large-ish batches of things like ragu for Bolognaise or lasagna, for steak and kidney pie fillings; for slow-cooked lamb shanks or for tenderizing cheap but tasty cuts of meat like skirt or shin beef.

The basic technique is simple. You prep your raw materials, place them in the Thermal Chef with an appropriate amount of water/stock/wine to choice plus seasoning, put on the hob, bring to the boil and cook for 5-10 minutes. Then you lift the pot from the stove, place the container inside the outer pot and click down the lid, leaving the food to continue cooking for, say 5-6 hours. I actually like to sweat or brown the veggies and meat in a little olive oil before adding stock, but that’s a counsel of perfection. Recently I made four litres of stock from the shells of a batch of Lidl’s excellent Canadian frozen, cooked lobsters.

By now the advantages (considerable) should be obvious. A low energy requirement – Thermal Chef must be the ultimate ‘Green cooker’; a claim that vitamins and minerals are retained (haven’t checked it); convenience (no need to stand over the dish or even be in the house while it’s cooking; flexibility – mealtimes can be a moveable feast; portability – I’ve carted dishes to friends’ houses; flavour and succulence – the long, slow cooking gets the most out of meat. For anyone camping or caravanning or couples who are both out at work this gadget would be a boon. All the above makes the sturdy Thermal Chef well worth the €99.99 ask.

One further thing. I don’t like to waste food and am keen on making stocks from offcuts and leftovers. But after enjoying a meal who wants the whiff of boiling bones through the house? You can let stocks simmer away in the double Thermo Chef and, thanks to the efficient insulation, there’s absolutely no smell.

Further details from the website: where you can also buy the equipment.


Wanted  to say a huge “thank you” to my coffee supplier, Steve Leighton of Hasbean, UK.

Yesterday I was almost out of “greens”. About 250g of Yemen Mocha Mattar left plus some Ethiopian Sidamo Swiss Water process de-caff which, good as it is, doesn’t give me the jizz that goes hand-in-hand with the flavours.
I’ve been buying from Steve for about 5 years and the quality of his beans is always a given. Even if you don’t roast you should take the opportunity to try some of the beautiful single estate coffees Steve imports – order via the website

What’s truly amazing though is the service. I ordered 5 x 2kg assorted bags – El Salvador, Brazil, Cuba, Sumatra by e-mail at 11.55am yesterday. They were delivered to my door in Dublin at 10.50 this morning. I’ve just opened the delectable El Salvador Finca La Fany, otherwise known as ‘my life blood’ and the HotProg roaster is warming up as I type.

Thanks, Steve (with whom I have no connection other than as a supplier and presumably,  as a mutual admirer of Niall Quinn).

Cup-and-saucer on the left is a very lovely Wedgwood pattern, my birthday present from a good friend and great food writer, Leslie Williams. Cup on the right is my favourite Villeroy & Boch.

Book Review: Life's too Short to Drink Bad Wine

Brendan O’Connor’s hymn to his Nespresso coffee maker in the Sunday Independent ‘Life’ Magazine a few weeks ago intrigued me sufficiently to want to draw parallels with wine. Let me first state my position; I am a coffee fanatic, a fundamentalist worshipper of the small brown bean. I have, at home, a semi-commercial espresso machine, plumbed into the mains. I roast my own coffee, buying beans in the green state from a variety of sources from England to West Coast USA. Many of these are, like great wines, the produce of a single small estate. I receive small bags of ‘greens’ from all over the world from fellow enthusiasts. After one such arrived bearing the postmark ‘Medellin, Colombia’ my postman holds me in deep suspicion.

Brendan is dead right when he intimates that Nespresso is miles better than much of the coffee you get in Dublin cafes or from a Foxrock housewife equipped with a puny domestic espresso machine. In the same way that, say, Wyndham Estate, to take but one example, is far better than mucky, rustic wine made a small producer with little understanding of winemaking techniques and, maybe, dodgy hygiene practices. Nevertheless, I’d back my home roasted Nicaraguan ‘Finca la Fany’ single origin bourbon to bloody the nose of any capsule in the Nespresso range when it comes to aroma, flavour and texture. When the little guy gets it spot on, there are subtleties and nuances the big producers just can’t achieve, try as they might. And it’s exactly the same with wine. All that said, if, for you, the purpose of drinking coffee is just to get that ‘wakey-wakey!’ caffeine hit you probably won’t care about quality. The same can be said about the person who drinks wine simply to gain enough confidence to chat up the opposite sex. Most of us, however, want to drink decently.

Which is why I’m  enjoying hugely a new book called ‘Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine. It’s written by Simon Hoggart who made his name as the parliamentary sketch writer for The Guardian but who also runs the Spectator Wine Club. Simon is a great writer, a man with penetrating insight and a keen, acerbic wit. The book is aimed at the wine lover who drinks frequently and who is prepared to pay a little bit more than supermarket prices to get something special. He has a sharp eye for a bargain – buy St.Aubin he says, instead of the more fashionable names if you want white Burgundy.

Simon’s obviously been around and I imagine his eminence as a parliamentary pundit gets him into more than a few choice cellars. But there’s no snobbery and no bullshit here. And, mercifully, no ‘let’s run this up the flagpole and see who salutes’ spurious food pairings, of which I’ve been treated to a surfeit recently. No elitism either. Simon, like me, is a fan of Montus madiran and Morellino di Scansano, good wines both, neither costing a fortune.

There are some gorgeous anecdotes – “Anthony Mitchell of El Vino’s (a famous Fleet Street wine bar) once told me he had a customer who complained about his pinotage. ‘Haven’t you got anything muddier?’ he asked, in the manner of someone in a grubby raincoat asking for something stronger in a Soho porn store.” Classic!

A rattling good read and a ‘must add’ to any wine lover’s bookshelf, ‘Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine’ is published  by Quadrille, €18 in hardback.

TESTED Le Nez du Vin – for anoraks only?

I’ve recently had a chance to play with Le Nez du Vin’s amazing wine aromas and faults kits.

p10100742Le Nez du Vin is said to help develop your sense of smell and your ability to recognise and describe the aromas of wine. The top-of-the range kit comprises 54 aromas of liquid in small glass bottles, reproducing the typical scents of white and red wine from the world’s spectrum. It isn’t stated whether the scents are natural or synthesised. I suspect the latter. Recognition cards give you the key to the bottles, which are only numbered (presumably to avoid cheating!). There’s also a booklet to explain how to use the aromas with information on the different grape varieties and their main aromas, the different style of wines and ageing characters. In addition there are two cut-down 12 bottle versions (red and white wines) and a 24 bottle version combining the two.

Perhaps the most interesting kit is the Le Nez du Vin Faults which contains 12 bottles of scent references and a book to help you memorise and better identify the phenomena that can contaminate wine. The aromas included are Vegetal, Rotten Apple, Vinegar, Glue, Soap, Sulphur, Rotten Egg, Onion, Cauliflower, Horse, Mouldy-Earthy, Cork so that wine anoraks may play away to their hearts’ content, summoning up brett, acetification, reduction and all manner of other evils at will.

Super Furry Anoraks might be interested in the New Oak kit that gives you all the flavours and aromas that stem from leaving wine in mega-expensive casks but that seems like a bridge too far for me.

It’s impressively packaged. Le Nez du Vin in any of its versions would make a great gift for the wine anorak in your life (except non-wine anoraks probably won’t be reading this!). It ain’t cheap though – around €370 for the 54 plus the Faults.

I bought the thing in the end, with some misgivings and a fair bit of guilt at splurging what seemed like silly money. On the other hand I do give a fair number of wine tutorials and taste seminars in the course of a year and the enhancement the kit would lend to these occasions is probably, for me, worth the expense. It will make a great Christmas party game too!

On the debit side, a few of the 54 flavours don’t seem that accurate. The Faults kit is deadly, though and really helps fix all the nasties in mind and memory.

Verdict: Bloody expensive tool for wine pros and anoraks only.

TESTED Wusthof Granton Santoku knife

The model I tested was the Classic Ikon 17cm. It costs around €90.

The Santoku is a multi-purpose knife, developed by Japanese cutlers but using Western blade technology, i.e. double-edged. It can be used  for chopping, slicing and dicing most foods (keep it away from bones, though, as the blade is quite thin-edged).  The broad blade allows you to scoop up the items chopped and put them on plate or in pan, swiftly and easily.

Wusthof are one of the most respected European manufactuers of culinary knives and are based in Solingen, Germany’s ‘steeltown’.  Most of their knives are in the European tradition, forged, with shouldered bolsters for strength, familiar blade shapes and shaped and riveted handles. The Santoku reviewed is, in effect, a blend of two traditions.  The blade construction is European, the shape, pure Japanese. Handles on the Classic Ikon series are round and unsculptured, in the manner of many Japanese knives. Balance is good, whichever way you hold the blade, but perhaps not quite so precise as the D-shaped handles on Shun Classic knives (alas, twice the price) . The Wusthoff Classic Ikon is certainly more comfortable than the popular Global knives, whose handles are too short for my hand. The blade, like all Wusthof knives, is a high carbon content stainless steel, designated x50 Cr Mo V15. It’s worth remembering that ‘stainless’ does not mean ‘non-staining’, by the way. It means what it says – ‘stains less’ so it’s still worth taking good care of your pricey knives, by washing, drying and putting them back in a safe place immediately after use.

The  term ‘Granton’ refers to the oval hollows scooped out of the rear face of the blade, designed to prevent food clinging to the blade. Does it work? Not remotely. I was still having to pick bits of garlic and pancetta off the back of the blade afterwards.

The main problem I found is that I was unable, using a combination of steel, patent Japanese sharpener and whetstone (with all of which I am fairly proficient) to get the edge of this knife really sharp. Possibly the most telling test is to ask a knife to slice through an unskinned onion. Alas, compared to my two-layer carbon Doi usuba, the Wusthof was not at the races.

Overall, I wouldn’t buy this very expensive knife. If you can find them, the bamboo handled Chroma or Bunmei knives, at half the price, are more up for it and, in my opinion, nicer to use. A shame, because I’ve owned a few good Wusthof knives, including a boning knife I wouldn’t swap for the world.

The Irish Cookbook

Carla is a member of the Irish Food Writer’s Guild, a well-known gardener and food writer. This book an update of a previous work, is very very much a family affair, being compiled with the assistance of her daughters and dedicated to her late husband Valentine who, she says, ‘three-finger typed the original manuscript’. Carla is a smashing person and her warmth and affection for the subject really comes over. The book is very strong on cake recipes and there is a particularly tempting Christmas pudding which I’m going to try.

The Irish Cookbook by Carla Blake
Mercier Press paperback e10.99

Wagamama Ways with Noodles

As the cookery writer for the Irish Times he needs no introduction and he will have assumed my role at the helm of the magazine by the time you are reading this. I dined with Hugo the other evening and was delighted to find we have a similar take on food and its accompanying philosophy.I leave F&W in good hands. This is his second Wagamama cookbook and my personal belief is it’s a far better book than the original; tighter, more logically constructed and with, overall, more interesting recipes. Hugh is a self-confessed noodle addict and his enthusiasm for the subject really comes across. Noodles are great things, probably the best almost-instant food we possess, versatile and wholesome too. As with all Kyle Cathie books, production values are high and the photographer, Ditte Isager, a new name to me, has done a first-class job. Highly recommended.

Wagamama Ways with Noodles by Hugo Arnold
Kyle Cathie e19.9 £14.99

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