Chicken and Tarragon Salad / Frosted Carrot Cake / Courgette

 The Food Island - Clean, Green & Tasty?

Euro-Toques, the international chefs’ organisation dedicated to defending the integrity of ingredients – ‘the building blocks of good cooking’ – held their 5th annual Food Forum & Fair in Co Wicklow recently. They celebrated the wealth of Irish artisan food with a day long food fair showcasing over 30 of Ireland’s small food producers, and held a debate ‘Ireland – the Food Island?’

This year’s topic – on developing Ireland as a ‘food tourism’ destination – is very timely; as Euro-Toques Commissioner-General Martin Dwyer asked: “With the Ryder Cup we are promoting Ireland as a golf destination, but why can’t we do the same with food? The quality of our raw ingredients and our green reputation makes Ireland an ideal food-lovers’ destination. Instead of concentrating on growing tourist numbers, we should look to providing a quality, authentic experience and food is very much part of this. The potential is huge, but it is something that needs to be worked on”. At the end of the discussion Euro-toques and an invited panel of speakers called on the government and relevant state bodies to develop food tourism as a sustainable industry, which can benefit local rural economies, by:

• Creating an industry working group dedicated to the development of Ireland as quality food destination
• Implementing coherent policy across government departments and industry bodies to ensure the support and survival of small food producers
• Committing funding and dedicated personnel to the development of food tourism

This stance makes sense and should be supported. But there is of course nothing new about ‘food tourism’; as with ‘gastropubs’, giving something a trendy modern name doesn’t make it new. The best inns have been providing good food for centuries and, certainly since (constructively critical) continental visitors followed in the wake of President de Gaulle’s 1960s visit to Cashel House in Connemara, discerning visitors have been coming to Ireland for good food, both on the plate and in the wild – and especially at our country houses.

This is vital to remember as, however interesting and enjoyable it may be, and no matter how important it is to support the producers who are growing the reputation of our food, especially artisan food, good food alone is not enough for ‘food tourism’ to be a real success. The ‘quality, authentic experience’ must extend to all areas affecting visitors, and the environment in particular – which means that the standard of planning (if it exists at all in many areas at present) needs to be improved dramatically and urgently to protect the natural beauty of Ireland, which – in addition to the friendliness of the people - is still the main attraction for visitors from abroad and, indeed, for Irish residents travelling here.

And we need to protect the ‘clean green’ environment with a view to increasing larger scale quality food production too, eg by resisting the threatened invasion of GMO crops which would endanger the development of the organic sector, which is not only a ‘good thing’ but a potential gold mine.


Chicken and Tarragon SaladIt is horrifying to think that only about a third of the chicken we eat is Irish, and that cheap imports (mostly going to cost-conscious hotels and restaurants) may come from countries where food safety regulations do not match those in Europe. So look out for the Feile Bia sign when eating out, and read the label carefully when buying fresh chicken. When using quality ingredients, simple dishes like this quick and easy salad will be delicious. Serve warm or cold – packs well to make a nice lunch for school or office (but keep cool, and do not prepare too far in advance).

Serves 4

3 Irish chicken breast fillets, preferably free range &/or organic
1 tsp olive oil
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
355g/12oz small firm potatoes
4 good handfuls (about 200g) mixed lettuce, or 1 bag salad leaves
Dressing :
2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp grainy mustard, or to taste

Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan. Use the teaspoon of olive oil to brush both sides of the chicken fillets and season well. Cook the chicken breasts on the hot pan for about 15 minutes, turning once, until golden brown on the outside and cooked through. Slice thinly and place in a large salad bowl.
Meanwhile wash the potatoes, halve them if necessary, then put into a pan and cover with cold water; add a little salt, bring up to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander; if serving cold, rinse again in cold water. Add to the chicken.
Whisk all the dressing ingredients together with salt and pepper to taste. Add to the chicken and potatoes and toss well. Wash and dry the salad leaves, then add to the salad bowl, stir through and serve.

SHORT RECIPE: Frosted Carrot Cake

Frosted Carrot CakeThis version of the classic wholesome treat is from Bee Walsh and Jill Walsh’s ‘The Right Bite’ (Gill & Macmillan €18.99); healthier ingredients included are cream cheese and fresh orange juice – something nutritious in disguise for the lunchbox, perhaps…

100 g (4 oz) each, margarine & brown sugar
150 g (5 oz) plain white flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
2 tablespoons orange juice
rind of 1/2 orange
100 g (4 oz) grated carrot


75 g (3 oz) icing sugar
50 g (2 oz) cream cheese
25 g (1 oz) soft margarine
a little grated orange rind
1 dessertspoon of orange juice

Using an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugar together until fluffy. Sieve in the flour, mixed spice, ground ginger and baking powder. Beat the two eggs, add to the mixture and mix well. Stir in the orange juice, orange rind and grated carrot. Pour the mixture into a well-greased 900 g (2 lb) loaf tin. Bake in a moderate oven (preheated to 140º–160ºC/275º–315ºF/gas mark 4–5) for 40 minutes or until cooked. Remove from oven and place on a wire tray to cool. While the cake is cooling, place all the frosting ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Spread the frosting over the top of the cake when it is cool. This cake is inclined to break easily, so slice carefully with a bread knife (and perhaps include a plastic spoon or fork in the lunchbox).

Ingredient of the Week: Courgette

What Is It?

A cucurbit – that is, of the same family as the cucumber, the squash and the melon - a courgette is a dwarf bush variety of marrow, a small young summer squash that is picked small ie about 3-5 inches /7.5-12cm long, when the skin is glossy and the pale flesh is firm and fine-textured.

Where Does It Come From?
Probably Italy originally; although the French name courgette is more familiar in Britain and Ireland, the Italian name zucchini - which is used in the USA - predates it.

Where Can I Get It?
Irish courgettes should be easily available now from greengrocers, box vegetable schemes and farmers markets, and in supermarkets (check for country of origin). Courgettes are also fun to grow at home – seeds of various types are on sale in every garden centre in Ireland in the spring and, as they are large, easy to handle and grow quickly, they are rewarding plants to start from seed and interesting for children. When the weather has warmed up they can be planted out in the garden (or in large pots) and they produce beautiful big yellow (edible) flowers as well as the courgettes, which are harvested in succession through the summer. Once picked, they keep in the fridge for 4 or 5 days.

What Can I Do With It?
The courgette is a versatile ingredient, and can be eaten raw (grated coarsely into salads), steamed, fried, or griddled (perhaps the most appealing, with its attractive ‘barbecue’ stripes). The flowers are popular with chefs and you often see them deep-fried in batter in restaurants, but you can try a simpler version at home: beat an egg with 2 tbsp (2 oz/50g approx) plain seasoned flour and enough water to make a smooth, thin batter. Chill for an hour if you have time to spare. Heat a little olive oil in a small pan over high heat and, when very hot, dip the flowers in the batter and cook, one or two at a time, in the hot oil then drain off any excess oil on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with a little sea salt - and a light grating of a fresh parmesan style cheese if you like – and serve as an edible garnish.

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