4 months ago

How to Shop Smartly For Food

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Has food as fashion finally had its day? It seems that, as the new decade starts, the performative eating and buying of the latest edible fads is feeling slightly tired. Mini handbag or little black dress-shaped pastries for afternoon tea are on their way out, and even superstar baker Dominique Ansel has retired his “Cronut”. Perhaps it is now “fashionable” to think more deeply about what we consume, without making a song and dance about it? It’s the equivalent of keeping our labels hidden, and that can only be a good thing. There’s really nowhere left to hide when it comes to trying to defend our worst food-related habits, and we need to become active players in the revolution right now.

But where to start with our food? Meat, less meat or no meat? And if none, then veggie or vegan? Are we being manipulated into feeling guilty as individuals by Big Everything, or can we in fact make a difference, somewhere? With the current overdose of conflicting information, what can we do that feels, if not substantial, at least real?

This is where it is a wonderful thing to live with a food culture like Ireland’s. Where the smallness of our country and our fierce national identity create a perfect storm. Irish farmers, producers, shopkeepers and chefs have not hung around waiting to catch the next woke wave. They have dared, innovated, led the way – and activists, food writers and academics like the McKennas, Regina Sexton, Catherine Cleary and Darina Allen have not only got stuck in themselves, but have loyally and relentlessly relayed the bravery and energy of others. The result is that for those in the country who can afford them, we do, now, have choices when it comes to where and how we shop. Farmers’ markets are surviving fashion, specialist food stores like Ardkeen in Waterford and Indie Fude in Newtownards are taking an active role in informing and coaxing their customers, deliciously, as they shop. Even the supermarkets, albeit with a beady eye on the marketing benefits, are providing more sustainable options alongside the mountains of plastic packaging and e-numbers.

When I was living in west Cork, the amount of plastic we would have to remove from perfectly robust food and throw away, broke our hearts. In France, it’s easier. Thankfully in Ireland, zero waste and plastic free food stores, once relegated to the ranks of fusty, hair-shirted hippiness, are now popping up all over the place. The principle is simple, buy what you need, then transport and store it sustainably. And no need to remind Glossy readers of the excellent kitchen decor opportunities this brings to our shelves. Who doesn’t want to replicate the dream Instagram look of row upon row of cute vintage glass jars with their equally cute labels?

The latest shop to open is The Source Bulk Foods. Following the success of the brand’s existing stores in Australia and the UK, their first Irish outpost is in Rathmines, Dublin 6, offering “over 450 quality ingredients housed in eco-savvy containers”. Also in Dublin, in The Old Chocolate Factory, the Dublin Co-Op works on a membership model and sells fresh veg alongside over a hundred products to buy in bulk, such as dried nuts and fruits, cereals, pulses and condiments. Cork, naturally (I’m not biased, of course) has a fantastic offering of eco food shops, from Organico in Bantry – who recently opened their new refill department – to Twig in Clonakilty, three branches of Quay Co-Op and the excellent supermarket, Natural Choice in Cork city. Westport has Pax Wholefoods, Galway The Filling Station. Soon, we can justifiably hope, such stores will be a welcome addition to all Irish towns. So this spring, find one in which you can shop. Ditch the plastic, throw less food away, embrace the cotton tote, the virtuous (and did we say attractive?) Kilner jar and the Ingalls vibe. This, we can do.

Cream of Lentil Soup with Chorizo Cake

This store cupboard soup is already satisfying, but the chorizo cake alongside will please any meat eaters. All easy ingredients to find and store in your beautiful larder.

For 6
10 minutes preparation
1 hour cooking

For the soup

50g butter • 200g crème fraîche • 1 large carrot, peeled, diced • 1 large onion, peeled, diced • 1 garlic clove, peeled, chopped finely • 100g dried, ready to cook, (or soaked overnight) green lentils • 1 bay leaf • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves • Salt and pepper

For the cake

350g cooking chorizo • 125g plain flour • 2 eggs • 70g salted butter, softened • 50g cheddar or gruyère, grated • 1 tsp baking powder • 2 tsps Dijon mustard • 2 tbsps chopped fresh parsley • 50ml vegetable oil

1. First make the cake. Remove the skin from the chorizo and fry it gently in a hot pan for four to five minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Heat the oven to 180°C.

3. In the bowl of your mixer, beat together the butter, mustard and oil until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating them into the mixture. Then fold in the flour and the baking powder with a spatula.

4. Add the chorizo, cheese and parsley and mix through thoroughly. Pour the batter into a medium-sized cake tin and bake for around 40 minutes. Test with a skewer in the centre to check if it’s cooked. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely.

5. To make the soup, heat the butter in a large, heavy-based pan and soften the onion, carrot and garlic. Add the lentils with 400ml of water, the bay leaf and the thyme. Bring to a low simmer and cook gently for around 40 minutes, stirring and checking to make sure there’s enough water from time to time.

6. Remove the bay leaf and blitz the soup in a blender until smooth. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper and serve hot with the chorizo cake, sliced and toasted.

Scallops with lemon-mashed cauliflower and black pudding

Small fillets of sole, curled into spirals and steamed, would work equally well in place of the scallops. This sounds fiddly but is really very simple and tastes incredible.

For 6 – 8
40 minutes cooking and preparation

12-16 scallops, beards and corals removed
1 whole cauliflower
75g butter
Zest of a lemon
Salt and pepper
1 small black pudding

Heat some butter in a pan, crumble the black pudding and cook to crisp into a crunchy rubble.
Steam the cauliflower until soft, then mash with the butter, lemon zest and a dash of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Steam the scallops for 7-8 minutes until they are opaque (this highlights their sweetness). Then season with salt and pepper and a touch of butter. Serve on the mash with black pudding crumbs sprinkled over.

Blackberry, blackcurrant & blueberry mess

Keep a handful of blackberries intact to contrast with the meringues.

For 6 – 8
20 minutes preparation

6 large meringues
400ml double cream
2 heaped tbsps mascarpone
250g blackberries
200g blueberries
150g blackcurrants
2 tbsps sugar
1 -2 tbsps crème de cassis (optional)

Put all the blackcurrants and a third of the blackberries and blueberries into a saucepan with the sugar. Heat gently, stirring from time to time, until the fruits release their juice, then simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Press the cooked fruits through a sieve to collect the juice. Add the crème de cassis if you are using it.
Whisk the cream and mascarpone cheese in a bowl. Crumble the meringues into it and mix lightly.
Just before serving, set the meringues and cream on a platter, gently mix the remaining fruits through the coulis and sprinkle over the meringues and cream.

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