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Last years winners of ‘A Taste of West Cork Schools Cookery Competition’, Ellen O’Regan & Pearse O’Flynn from Schull Community College have just sent us this account of their prizewinning trip to Neven Maguire’s MacNean House & Restaurant:

neven & grace inehanOn Wednesday, 13th May 2009 we travelled the seven hour journey to Blacklion, Co. Cavan with our Home Economics teacher, Ms. Grace Linehan. We were welcomed at MacNean House & Restaurant, in Neven’s absence, by his uncle Frank and local lady Sheila. Neven and most of his staff were at the Irish Restaurant Awards ceremony at The Burlington Hotel in Dublin. We relaxed for an hour in the lovely surroundings of MacNean House before we sat down to a delicious meal prepared specially for us by Chef Vicky. We had the restaurant to ourselves that evening.

After nine o’clock breakfast next morning we were told of Neven’s successful night in Dublin. He picked up six awards including the coveted All Ireland Best Chef and Best Celebrity Chef awards.

Before meeting Neven in the kitchen, we had a few hours off which we spent at Enniskillen Shopping Centre just fifteen minutes away. At one o’clock we were back at MacNean House to meet up with Neven. Before getting down to work in the kitchen he spoke briefly about the awards ceremony the previous night and gave us the history of MacNean House.neven in kitchen with shane and ellen   He introduced us to his chefs, kitchen staff and his enthusiastic, three year old nephew who obviously adores Neven as he was dressed in full chef’s outfit and wanted to cook with Neven. Then it was time to put on our aprons and set to work. Neven showed us how to make spring rolls, chocolate tart, roast pineapple, pineapple chutney, chili jam and how to spin sugar into baskets and other designs. He also showed us cooking techniques such dicing and how to roll pastry correctly. Meanwhile he made us a lovely chicken curry for lunch while at the same time we watched as he set about preparing dinner for guests later that night.

After lunch we presented Neven with a hamper made up of West Cork produce, generously sponsored by: Irish Yoghurts, Glenilen Farm, Gubbeen Cheese, Bantry Bay Seafood, Union Hall Smoked Fish, Clonakilty Black Pudding, Skeaghanore Duck, Durrus Cheese, Sally Barnes Smoked Fish, Desmond/Gabriel Cheese and FollainTeo.Neven presented with West Cork Food Hamper

At 6.30 p.m., before the pièce de resistance (8 course dinner in MacNean House, prepared by Neven) we watched from the kitchen while table service began. It was interesting to see how smoothly things ran in such a busy kitchen and celebrity chef Neven wasn’t at all like other t.v. chefs who seem to shout at their staff all the time.

Dinner was an exceptional dining experience from beginning to end. Starter included Trio of Goat’s Cheese, Assiette of Rabbit or Seared Sea Scallops, to name just three. This was followed by Carrot & Coconut Soup with smoked ham Hock Ravioli and Passion Fruit Jelly. Main course included Assiette of Irish Beef, Rare Breed Pork Plate or Trio of Turbot, all with delicious accompaniments. A wonderful selection of deserts was preceded by ‘pre-desert’ of Tiramisu with popping Candy! Tea or coffee was accompanied by MacNean House petit fours.

The presentation of each dish was truly amazing and the wonderful combination of flavours and textures made it a dining experience we will never forget.

Next morning after a delicious breakfast, Neven invited us to join him on a visit to his producers but unfortunately as we had a long journey ahead this wasn’t possible. Before we left, Neven kindly presented us with a signed copy of his new cook book and again invited us back to MacNean House to complete our Transition Year work experience. We are very much looking forward to it.

Ellen O’Regan & Pearse O’Flynn

3rd Year students Schull Community College

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It's not just for breakfast either! Blackpudding with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar at the Emmet Hotel

It's not just for breakfast either! Blackpudding with Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar at the Emmet Hotel

Despite our acclaimed cheeses, seafood, preserves and other artisan foods, traditional black pudding is the food product most associated with West Cork. I know this because we at the Fuchsia Brand do fairly regular surveys to gather information from visitors and shoppers about brands and foods they associate with West Cork and Clonakilty Black Pudding comes to mind most frequently. But I suspect that many people’s experience of West Cork black puddings stops there. Does this matter, I wondered? Are all puddings much the same anyway? This week, with the help of my 7 colleagues I set out to fill in a few more of the blanks on my culinary map of West Cork. We tasted 5 local puddings all of which are made with fresh blood. This was our first such office tasting session and I was quite surprised at the enthusiasm with which my colleagues devoured the plates of lightly fried black pudding, each keeping one hand free to scribble notes on the tasting sheets. I had thought that asking people to eat 5 pieces of black pudding unaccompanied would be a strain, but in fact they would have eaten more. Like wine tasters who don’t spit, a few of my colleagues were later to rue their over enthusiasm and will perhaps feel less compelled to eat every morsel next time. Black pudding in West Cork is made with blood from either pork or beef, minced meat trimmings, pinhead oatmeal, onions and spices. The oatmeal is left to steep in the blood before the other ingredients are mixed in. It is then filled into casings and boiled gently for 20-30 minutes until is has firmed up sufficiently. Cooking requires careful judgement, overcook it and you end up with a pot of mush. The blood firms up fully as the pudding cools. Unfortunately, nowadays almost all of the black puddings on the supermarket shelves in Ireland are made with reconstituted powdered blood rather than fresh blood, generally sourced from Holland, this can result in a grainy, crumbly texture. The fresh blood has a better aroma when cooked and a firmer texture. Butchers puddings are ususally made from beef blood because they do not slaughter very many pigs. Sheeps blood can also be used. Amongst the 5 we tested, Stautons and Rosscarbery Recipes use pig’s blood. Of course, black pudding is not unique to Ireland, but appears in different forms all across Europe. It is one of the oldest known cooked foods and t is believed to have been invented by the Celts. Black pudding or blood sausage can rightly be called a heritage food for the manner in which distinct and well respected regional variations have survived. In Germany it is called blutwurst and is often served with mashed potato. In parts of Germany it can be made with horse meat. In Spain it is called morcilla and can include other fillers such as rice, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, almonds. There is even a sweet morcilla from Galicia in the northwestern region, which is fried and served most commonly as a dessert. French black pudding is called boudin and the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goûte Boudin (Brotherhood of the Knights of Blood Sausage) in Mortagne-au-Perche, Normandy holds a annual contest of international blood sausage specialities.

 

Rosscarbery Recipes

This is the newest of the puddings we sampled and its creation is a very positive indication that the decline in fresh blood puddings can be reversed. Made by Willie and Avril Allshire of Caherbeg Free Range Pork, Rosscarbery, this pudding was best of the Irish entries at the aforementioned International Black Pudding Competition in France this year. It has a lower oatmeal content than the other four resulting in a softer texture. The flavour is full and well balanced with the meat holding its own against the salt and spices. This pudding is sold in plastic wrapped chubs and when cooked without its casing holds together well. Rosscarbery Recipes is sold in quite a number of supermarkets and butcher shops.

Ml O’Neill & Sons, Clonakilty

O’Neill’s black pudding is sold only from their butcher shop in Clonakilty and is probably the longest in existence among the five we sampled, having been created by Mike’s grandfather. Mike still buys his spice mix from a descendant of the man who used to work for his grandfather and made the original puddings. O’Neill’s is made in the traditional rings and packed in natural casing. It was the only pudding we sampled that is cooked in the casing, which some people enjoyed chewing on to savour the lasting flavour. It has a fairly open, coarse texture though it did not threaten to crumble during cooking. Although the pudding was quite salty, it was the clear favorite amongst my colleagues, none of whom had eaten it before but most of whom will now seek it out.

Collins Brothers, Dunmanway

If you haven’t tried this pudding before the first thing that strikes you is the size, being considerably wider than the traditional rings or the chubs made by most commercial manufacturers. Produced by James and PJ Collins pudding is made in a large size only – c.2 inches across and 18 inches long, and is packed in a plastic casing. It is sold in slices, either vacuum packed or freshly cut. James told me that their recipe was adapted from the process used by their mother at home – “At that time every house used to kill a pig and making the pudding was part of that. It was for home use but we knew how to make it then when we started the butcher shop. One thing that has helped a lot is the hollow tube knife for extracting the blood – it’s a very clean and contained process now.” The introduction of the hollow tube knife that James refers to has put the production of fresh blood puddings on a much sounder footing with the regulatory authorities and appears to significantly reduced the threat of losing this part of our food heritage.

Dan Maloney Meat Centre, Bandon

Another large diameter pudding, this one had distinctly more chew than the others owing both to the meat and the higher oat content. I’ve eaten this a few times recently as part of my weekend fry and have come to appreciate the balance it brings to a plate already overloaded with salty, fatty pork products. Dan told me that they launched their pudding 15 years ago at the Bandon Show and that the man who makes it learned his trade in Clonakilty. I found this a common feature among the butchers I spoke to and probably accounts for the high degree of similarity in West Cork puddings. There is usually one person employed for the task and he will have developed his skill elsewhere, the result is a high degree of cross fertilisation and consistency.

Stauntons, Timoleague

Although it is produced in a large, modern meat factory, Stauton’s pudding is made in exactly the same way as the others we sampled and is quite a separate process to main production activity at the plant. The growth in demand for their pudding from supermarkets was actually the main reason Michael Staunton closed his butcher shop in 1985 to establish a dedicated manufacturing and slaughtering plant. Fresh blood pudding making, is a tight process in terms of handling the blood and meat and is very much tied with the killing of pigs. Stauntons could not have grown the pudding sales without this new facility. The business is now wholly owned by Barryroe Co-Op who took a majority shareholding in 1998, but the puddings are still made almost exclusively by Donie O’Callaghan who started with Michael Staunton in 1967. “These puddings have stood the test if time. Nothing has changed apart from some larger machines, which make the job easier.” When I asked Donie about how Staunton’s compares with other puddings he told me that not surprisingly he doesn’t really eat any outside of work, where he’d “be nibbling away at a bit all the time.” The pudding we sampled is sold in a three pack with white and brown pudding also included. Stauntons puddings are also produced in traditional rings in natural casing. It has a nicely balanced flavour and aroma that should suit most palates.

By the way, I should have mentioned this before now but Declan Waugh and myself are presenting on food security and famine as part of the National Famine Commemoration Week in Skibbereen. Details below.

Food & The Famine

A set of presentations examining our ability to feed ourselves in extreme circumstances, both here in Ireland and around the globe. Declan Waugh from Partnership for Change will explore the impact of Climate Change on world famine and will present a number of projects that have set out to combat its effect. Ivan McCutcheon from West Cork Development Partnership will look at our ability to feed ourselves in Ireland in a crisis situation, asking for how many days we could stock the supermarket shelves with anything other than meat and dairy products. You will have an opportunity to taste the infamous Soyer’s soup (by all accounts a mis-guided 19th century Jamie Oliver) and consider what would we eat and cook on a euro a day. 

2.00-3.30pm at the Co-Action Centre. Attendants are asked to make a donation to the listed charities in lieu of their lunch (you will get soyers  soup & crackers).

CONTACT: 023 8834035 or charmaine@wcdp.ie

The main event in on Sunday – for details of the full programme go here: http://www.skibbheritage.com/Memorial_Programme.pdf

   

This sounds brilliant – just in from the West Cork Literary Festival. I have to see if I can get free at work and get along there. John always has things so well thought out:

John & Sally McKenna's brilliant guide to Irish Food.

John & Sally McKenna's brilliant guide to Irish Food.

There will be a unique chance to learn about the art and craft of food writing from Ireland’s “leading food critic” John McKenna during the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in July.

The five day workshop from July 6 – 10 will introduce aspiring food critics, would-be cookbook writers and those with an interest in writing about food to the strong literary tradition within food writing, to the icons of the art, and to show why food writing is an essential part of a country’s culture.

The cost of the course is € 175 and takes place from Monday 6 – Friday 10 July from 9.30am to 12.30pm. Booking is limited to 15 participants.

Topics covered will include Food Writing as Art; Food Writing as Craft; Food Culture vs Food Celebrities; Constructing a Food Narrative; Case Study: Michael Pollan

To find out more about this and other workshops including Writing for the Stage with Billy Roche, Writing for Radio with Rory Kilalea, Screen Writing with Ferdia Mac Anna and many more, have a look at www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie or ring 027 55987

John McKenna is the author and publisher, with his wife, Sally, of The Bridgestone Guides, a series of independent, critical guides to Ireland’s food and hospitality cultures. The McKennas have written and published the Bridgestone Guides since 1991.

John McKenna has won four Glenfiddich Awards for food writing and broadcasting, and he has also won the Andre Simon Special Award for The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide. He is the only Irish writer to have won both these international awards.John McKenna has been described by The New York Times as Ireland’s leading food critic, by The Financial Times as Ireland’s champion food writer, and by The Guardian as Ireland’s most opinion-forming food critic and a powerful commentator on culinary trends.

 

 

 

 

Talking Chickens!

 

This just in from Hosfords, sounds interesting:
TALK – SHOW – SALE OF PURE BREED CHICKENS!!!chicken
This coming Sunday 10th May at 12 O’clock, Hosfords Garden Centre & Cafe, Bandon

If you are interested in learning more about the possibilities of having your own hens or perhaps in adding a few pure breed Chickens to your flock, then do please join us at Hosfords Garden Centre this coming Sunday, 10th May.

There will be a talk by Sophie Kent on the skills and investments needed for the best way to keep chickens in small flocks for your family eggs, also on the breeding of pure breed Fowl.
The will have various breeds:
Speckled & Light Sussex, Araucana, Pekin Bantam, Houdan, Brahma – gold and Blue Leghorn, Utility Layers (2 week old chicks), etc….
We will also be taking orders for delivery of Point of Lay Babcocks that will be ready on the last week of May.
For more information please ring Sophie on:  086 0839569
Do please pass this on to your friends who may be interested – all welcome – Hosford Garden Centre has a wonderful display of plants and vegetables as well as their award winning Blue Geranium Restaurant for your Lunch!

 

Bob McCutcheon visiting his bees with his granddaughter Asha

Bob McCutcheon visiting his bees with his granddaughter Asha

Hosford’s Garden Centre, Cappa, Enniskeane Co. Cork
Sunday 26th April 2-5pm
Demonstrations designed to pass on heritage skills to the youngsters – from the generation which knows best!

Bread and Scone Making with Ballinascarthy Bakers Mary Collins and Chrissie Flynn (children can join in)

All About Bees with Award Winning Beekeeper Bob McCutcheon, Secretary of County Cork Beekeeper’s Association (and my Dad!)– Kids and grownups can learn how honey is made

Planting Strawberries and Making Jam with Artisan Grower Denise Bushby – Children love fresh strawberries, and this is a chance to learn how to grow them and make jam from them – from West Cork’s expert!

Dance The Afternoon Away fo Music from
The Three G’s (Two Grannies and a Grandad!)

Children’s Art Competition from 12 Noon.
Kids are invited to paint or draw a picture on a theme of ‘Cooking with Grandma’ (materials provided) which will be judged by the Slow Food West Cork team. Best Picture wins lunch for two – as a gift for Grandma and Grandad, or Grandma or Grandad plus a guest (€1.00 entry fee as a donation to Slow Food)

Demonstrations, art competition and music to run throughout the afternoon. Everyone welcome – Grannies, Grandads, Mums, Dads and children of all ages

Log on to http://www.slowfoodireland , email slowfoodwestcork@gmail.com or call
Dianne Curtin 086 067 6249 for more details

This just in from SAREN in Skibbereen. I agree completely and am disgusted with this decision by UTV Media. I thought that this was a station that had some cultural values, apparently not. Hope they come to regret it and reverse the decision asap. At a food level, I will miss Dianne Curtin’s slot, always lively, plenty of laughs and groans of pleasure.

Locals Urged to Sign Petition to have Voices Heard

The Skibbereen and Region Economic Network (SAREN) has voiced its disappointment at UTV Media’s decision to axe the much loved West Cork Today programme hosted by David Young.

The group has described the move as arbitrary and nonsensical. SAREN has written to UTV Media and has set up an online petition on http://www.skibbereen.ie for people to sign and air their thoughts on the decision. This will be presented to the governing body in the coming weeks.

Speaking of the decision, Bernard O’Donovan of SAREN said “This is a blow for our region. David gave a platform to all kinds of issues from the good to the bad.

For three hours every weekday, locals were able to tap in to their locality and get up to date news on events and hotly debated topics. It is extremely short-sighted of UTV Media to just take this away from the region with no notice. Yes, times may be more difficult than we’ve experienced in the past number of years but this should not mean that organisations can treat employees in such a foul manner.
The voice of a whole region has been taken away in favour of a few extra coffers for the group. It is disheartening to think that such an organisation holds one wage extra over a whole region of dedicated listeners and what they represent.
It is only when people stand together can things improve and this is what SAREN represents. The region must fight back to have its voice heard. We should not stand by and watch our platform being stripped away from us in this way. That is why we have set up the online petition on http://www.skibbereen.ie for people to go there and sign it. We will then send this to UTV Media as a step to get David back on air. We urge everyone to sign the petition to show UTV Media that we still have a voice albeit slightly quietened for now.”
SAREN will hold its next meeting on Tuesday 28th April in Casey’s Hotel Baltimore at 7.30a.m where four key development projects for the advancement of the area will be announced. Projects are broken into Infrastructure, Enterprise, Marine and Tourism and Energy, with each setting out to improve the future of the region in its respective field. All interested in getting involved in the future of the region are invited to attend.