cacao and cardamom sauce

100g pure cacao (70-90% chocolate would suffice)
8 cardamom pods
2-4 tablespoons of sticky dark brown sugar
butter (unsalted or otherwise)
double cream (if necessary)

makes about a cupful of sauce

crush the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife and remove the seeds, discarding the husks. dry fry the seeds on a cast iron skillet on a high heat for about a minute or until you get the smell of cardamom. put into a mortar and crush to within an inch of its life.

break up the cacao (or grate it in a whirly cheese grater for added silliness) and place in a bowl on a bain-marie (on a saucepan full of hot water on the hob) and melt slowly. add the butter (about a centimetre thick cross-section of a half-pound block), two tablespoons of sugar and the ground cardamom.

stir and warm until everything has melted completely and the sauce has a nice sheen (from the butter).

the cacao and cardamom will make the sauce somewhat gritty (like very strong chocolate) which will work well to accompany very sweet dishes but if you need a more rounded sauce add more butter (unsalted if you are using lots), sugar and/or double cream to taste.

works suspiciously well with pears poached in red wine (I am somewhat skeptical about this but I have been assured it is the case.)

When it cools it will solidify but can be melted and used again (though for how many times I’m not sure, and being paranoid about food safety myself I wouldn’t be handing out any advice on how long to keep it. i would be especially wary of reheating the sauce if you have put cream in it – for no real reason other than urgh).

pears poached in red wine

4-6 (hard, unripe) pears
one bottle red wine (cheap, i used merlot)
1.5-2 mugs dark sticky brown sugar
one cinnamon stick, broken in two
6-10 cloves
4 cardamom pods
1-3 slices of lemon

serves 4-6

put everything apart from the pears into a small/medium saucepan. the pot should be big enough to hold the six pears and the wine but small enough so that the pears are completely covered at all times. turn hob onto a medium heat.

while this mixture is warming slice the bottom off the pears and core it from below (take out just enough so the pips and nasty bits are gone: a cone about 3cm in diameter and 5cm high. ish). peel the pears all the way to the stalk, leaving the stalk on makes it prettier and also easier to deal with when cooking.

when all the sugar has dissolved put the pears into the pot. they will float to the top of the liquid, the best way I found to keep them submerged was the lid of a much smaller pot: it pushes the pears down; leaves plenty of room around the edge for steam to escape; and the handle makes it easy to lift off. all-in-all very clever.

let boil for 25-30 mins, moving the pears around every so often to ensure even cooking/absorption of the lovely flavours. the longer the pears are left the more flavour they get but the mushier they become.

take the pears out, put in a baking dish, cover with aluminium foil and put in a warm (80C) oven to keep.

Here’s the tricky bit. You want to boil the sauce away to leave a syrup. This can go very wrong very fast. Stop boiling too soon and you have a watery liquid, leave it too long and you have a boiled sweet at the bottom of the pot.

The liquid should boil for quite a while and reduce to about two mugs worth of syrup. When you remove it, it should still pour like water but as it cools it will gradually get thicker.

Place one pear upright on each plate with the sauce around, beside or poured over the pear. A chocolate sauce would be quick and easy to make while the syrup is reducing or cooling; vanilla ice cream would also work a treat.

thoughts/criticisms/suggestions welcome

okay, so there was a request for this i’m not (just) stroking my ego here.

Pinto bean and chorizo stew:

500g dried pinto beans
1 300g chorizo (or more depending on savagery)
2 tins of tomatoes
1 bulb of garlic
2 hot chilies (or more depending on masochism)
2 onions
some oregano
less basil
3 bay leaves
shitloads of whole cumin
black pepper to taste
150g of bacon lard-ons
sunflower oil

serves 4-8

soak the pinto beans overnight in lots of water (i change the water once but i’m not sure if that’s necessary)

very finely chop the garlic (6 cloves -1 bulb to taste), chilies and onions and put in a heavy-bottomed oven-friendly pot.

pour in just enough sunflower oil to fry what’s in the pot and add the bacon lard-ons (the fat from the chorizo and bacon will more than make up for skimping on the sunflower oil, just make sure they fry rather than burn)

fry for long enough to cook the lard-ons through, basically long enough to cook the bacon but not long enough to burn the garlic.

pour in water (i boil it in the kettle first, just to make sure everything stays cooking) up to about two inches below the lip of the pot (enough so the beans, chorizo and tins tomatoes won’t cause overflowage – you can always add in more if necessary, but do make sure the beans are well-covered so they cook properly)

add in the oregano, basil and bay leaves. loads of oregano – i thought i’d put in too much, it looked like really herby soup. some basil, about a big heaped teaspoon i’d say, maybe two. bring to the bubble.

drain the beans and add them to the pot. while the pot heats up again, skin the chorizo (if you could be fucked) and chop into whatever size chunks you prefer, though for consistancy I would have one dimension being at least 2cm. Add the chorizo to the pot and while its boiling away take two good handfuls of whole cumin seeds and dry fry (preferably in a cast iron pan for slickness) after the first few seeds pop, pour the now hot cumin into a mortar and bash with a pestle until it’s nicely ground or you get sick of it. then chuck the cumin into the pot and stir well.

throw in the two tins of tomatoes and let boil uncovered for about half an hour – just enough time to make sure it all looks okay and will survive well in the oven.

preheat the oven to about 160C, put the lid on the pot and throw in the oven (put on a baking tray or put a baking tray below in case the pot boils over).

you can boil this indefinitely, periodically reducing the temperature by 20C each time (maybe after every hour), providing you stir regularly (about every 30mins) as the fat will tend to rise and the flavour won’t go into the beans. Keep also an eye on the liquid level to make sure the beans have enough to cook in. I would have the food in the oven for at least 3 hours.

Remove the bay leaves before serving with a salad and crusty bread (the salad may be ignored).

Thoughts:

In my opinion there’s no extra salt needed – the bacon and chorizo will work plenty magic.

Two tins of tomatoes is enough to give the stew some flavour but not make it a tomato stew, but one or two more tins won’t ruin it, just add some sugar to counteract the acidity.

I can’t think of a way to present this daintily.

I think of this cooking method as about half way between feijoada, cassoulet and a moorish stew.

If you do it veggie add loads of veg (esp. carrots for body) and lots of extra salt and a lot more olive oil.

Any other beans could be substituted (haricot beans could be brilliant with it), chick peas would be good but would change the texture of the dish completely.

any questions/thoughts/criticisms welcome.

…and

15/02/2010

apologies for the hiatus. new cool shit on the way. promise.

As the first part of my Grindhouse-lite double bill today I’ll quickly mention the predicted public service cuts in Britain. The guardian article claims that both New Labour and the Tories have ring-fenced health, education and defence as immune to cutting leaving law and order and higher education among the public services on the chopping block. Now, whatever you or I may think about maintaining spending on defence and shelling out billions for nuclear weapons that will never be used, at least the government (and, interestingly enough, the opposition) have an opinion. They are at least maintaining the illusion of having principles, though I would argue that this is more about having an effective and threatening fourth estate forcing their hand rather than anything so high and mighty as a moral stance.

I know I have a vested interest in this but given how morally bankrupt the politicians in the UK are it’s a startling lesson in how disgraceful we have let our own public representatives treat – and think of – us.

Oh, and in the final paragraph of the article it is mentioned almost off-hand that part of the reason the cuts will be so deep is the continuation of overseas aid, which is nice. I’d almost bet my right bollock that overseas aid will be obliterated in this year’s budget here.

After a quick intermission I’ll be back with my Planet Terror-style part two.

I’m not really informed about things (at least not as informed as
i’d like) but I have opinions. Some of these are illusionary, some are pragmatic; they’re probably mostly all wrong. After a quick bit of reading and thinking…

We should not have two bodies doing one job in our public services (but NCAD and IADT should never be merged).

We should amalgamate health care into centres of excellence as per international best practice (but this would mean longer transit times for patients with emergent conditions and we all know Irish roads are shit).

Update (due to wordpress crash and forgetfulness): Social welfare payments and allowances should be locked into inflation/deflation and since we’re in a time of deflation they should be cut and allowances should be means tested (but this would mean that the most vulnerable people in society get hit once more).

We should reduce bureaucracy in all our public services (but less VECs means more chance for corruption and nepotism, and VECs are much better than Church trustees).

We should have a third tax bracket for super-high earners (but they’d find ways to avoid paying anything, like leaving, and then we’d be getting nothing).

We should have either income tax or VAT, not procluding health/environment taxes (taxing someone on their food, clothes and heat after they’ve been taxed on the money they use to buy those things seems perverse).

VAT on duty on petrol is daft (car tax should be done away with and duty should be increased – you pay your share for the upkeep of the roads based on the petrol you use).

All public service pay should be cut, not levied, but actually cut. This should be done based on benchmarking with industry on the understanding that salaries must increase when things get better (but then people who are struggling already on fixed-rate mortgages might not be able to make the repayments on the houses they are unable to sell).

This article seems well-reasoned and somewhat slightly hopeful. Then again it really doesn’t seem to say anything at all, really.

I don’t know what to think anymore.

in the absence of anything newsworthy to talk about this week let’s consider the new releases in the cinema today. I won’t be going to the new Harry Potter movie. I won’t be going to The Informers. I may go to Frozen River. I’ll probably catch Moon on dvd, but only cos of his da. In other news I may watch Harsh Times on dvd over the weekend but then again I may not. Her indoors definitely won’t be watching Eastern Promises, so maybe I’ll check that out one morning while she’s having a lie-in

okay, so I should say it first. I don’t illegally download music. not because I think it’s wrong (which to some extent it is, but in my humble opinion it’s no different to listening to the radio) but because listening to music is one of the few vices I have and, having the money to do it, i want to do it properly. Finding new music is endlessly exciting to me and I’d like the artist to get something back, even if it is something derisory (i know the record companies get the lion’s share of the money but, fuck it, something derisory is better than nothing), and get the statistic of one (more) sale. My motives for not illegally downloading may be na├»ve but they’re my motives so fuck you.

Which brings me to my point. You’d think that IMRO would love me to death. i want to pay for my music, i buy all hardcopies and i loyally follow some artists wherever they go. Here comes the catch. I haven’t bought, and don’t intend to buy, music in Ireland for quite some time. I also haven’t bought music by an Irish artist in about 5 years (and even that was a self-released electro album which was kinda crappy anyway). I try to do both these things. I go into record shops; the chains and the indies; I go into records shops and they don’t have anything I want and what they do have is usually twice the price as it can be found on amazon. And amazon have what I want; if not amazon then I can get it direct from the label at an even cheaper price.

So, you see, I am doing as much to hurt the Irish record industry as the average teen downloader. More so, really, considering I don’t go to Oxegen or Britney in the O2. Actually, come to think of it, the last gig I was – stadium, arena or pub – at was Adam Green in the Sugar Club, and that was some time ago. So, as someone who occasionally completes the odd song or two (and has no intention of ever charging for anything should anyone ever feel like paying), should I feel guilty for my lack of support of the scene in Ireland? I do, to some extent, but there’s so little that excites me out there now that overall I couldn’t give a flying cunt about the scene, run mostly by dickheads and morons.

The dearth of new music is so profound, yes I’m the wrong side of 30 but I – honestly – don’t think it’s me: I listen to much more music than any of the kids I teach; more and louder and noisier and much more hardcore (kenny rogers “dance” mixes were all the rage in 07/08, which was really fucking depressing. I lost interest after that). I’ve listened – and still occasionally do – to breakcore (fun but i’ve yet to be totally engaged), I am still trying to find the dubstep that seals that genre for me though I think it’s best experienced live so I may never get to: Wicklow ain’t much of a hotbed for new and exciting electronica (apart from spudcore, that is, thanks shel). I’m not even going to justify Irish guitar music with any more than this (apart from Adebisi Shank who are worth it for the name alone).

So, point being…

I buy shitloads of music. Not as much as some people I know but definitely above average. Right now i’ve got 13 cds in various stages of postage but only three of them are 21st century cds. I try to be interested in what the kids like (La Roux, Florence and the Machine: I have enough prince albums already, thank you. And they’re all by prince, which is the point.) but it’s shit. And I don’t think it’s me getting old, I just think it’s insipid, dull crap.

Get on with it…

I’m buying the music my parents were into. Not because it’s amazing (which it is) and hopefully not because i’m getting old (which I am), but because it’s the only music that I haven’t explored that seems vital. There’s so much more life to any album track off “John Wesley Harding” than any of the “stand out” tracks on any of the new vaguely hip guitar/electro stuff coming out of Britain. Again, is this my fault in that I’m getting old? Or is it the fault of unimaginative A&R men or bottom-lining record executives looking for their next bonus or record company policies demanding all their acts have instant success or be dropped.

I’ve been reduced to finding something interesting in Talking Heads and dub for christ’s sakes! Talking Heads! Their third album is much better than their first two. Three Talking Heads albums! I really liked “Road to Nowhere” when I saw it on “Music Television USA” on RTE 2 back in the day (along with Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and Van Halen’s “Jump”) but that’s pretty much the only thought I’ve given to them since then. I own two dub boxsets and some of the supposedly important albums. It’s good stuff but it’s dub for fuck’s sake. At least I don’t listen to The Arcade Fire.

It really grinds my balls when I hear some self-satisfied record exec or IMRO staffee giving out about illegal downloading killing the industry when it’s blatantly obvious to anyone paying attention that it’s the industry has been committing a long slow hari kari since the dawn of the CD. The lack of artistry and the squeezing of the round peg of art into the square hole of profit has destroyed what the industry once was (“Hip hop records aren’t maximised as product, let alone as art” The Roots).

It was always an industry, and always will be. The difference being that now (and for some time now) that there is no leeway in forsaking this year’s profits for next year’s windfall. It’s all about year end, year-on-year. There are still many interesting record labels doing great things. It’s hard to find them, harder still to find the great music on them, but it’s there. What’s important is that they’re mostly living outside of the major labels in structure and attitude. They’re doing it to make money, but they know that they’ll make money if the music is real rather than if the music is “now” or, as what William Burroughs calls, “cool”.

Basically, next time you hear someone decrying the death of the music industry, think about someone like me: Buying loads of music; trying to invest time into new artists; willing and open to experimentation; failing to be excited or interested by 99% of anything that he hears on radio or teevee; and, based on IMRO’s criteria, doing just as much damage to the Irish music industry as the most cynical downloader.

Needs

15/07/2009

Reading Jenni Russell’s piece in the guardian today I was struck by how we here in the emerald isle are both extremely lucky and unlucky at the same time (I should say that I liked the piece but it was full of bark but lacking in bite; pot:kettle).

Education here hasn’t become an all-out landgrab for real estate at the top of any offical leaderboard (we all know what school to send kids to if you want 6 A1s in Leaving Certificate, but at least there’s nothing officially official). We don’t have the vast bureaucracy of the British Education system and thank god we don’t have the 11+ exams in primary schools. We haven’t introduced performance related pay, thankfully, but at the same time there is absolutely no incentive for teachers to work in the disadvantaged schools; to bring children from illiteracy and ennumeracy to functional levels of both whereby at the end of a student’s time in school (be it Junior Certificate or later) they will find subsistence employment and cease to be a burden on the state.

In Britain now, even in a time of (relatively) vast unemployment, cash incentives are being offered to teachers to commit to a number of years in disadvantaged schools. At the very least this can be seen as an admission that the authorities are aware that teachers are needed in classrooms for insurance and legal purposes, at best that they recognise that education is the only way for the most vulnerable to escape the cycle of unemployment.

Conversely, the well-documented stripping bare of the education system in Ireland and the risible psychological support services present have left those (of us lucky enough to still be) in the industry the feeling of swimming through quicksand. No matter what we do we’re doomed, and god knows what the budget in December will take away from us this time. I know children who – with the paltry facilities at their disposal 12 months ago – would be able to survive independently as adults , or at least have a chance (a modest goal, anyone would admit). I am now certain that they will not. This does not mean we will stop fighting for them (sometimes with them), we will not stop trying to make education a safe, happy, successful place but I cannot see any way we can save these kids. It is incredibly upsetting to think about but that is the way it is and we can only do what we can in the time we have.

The exodus of experienced teachers currently afoot also leaves me with bittersweet feelings. On the one hand i will have a job in September, but on the other the brain drain is startling. Facing into the hardest year in education in my memory (as student and teacher) we will be without those experts who have seen it all and know all there is to know. The country will be all the poorer for it.

In the area of healthcare the NHS is head, shoulders, chest, abdomen, hips, knees, shins, and ankles above the Irish health system. Year after year of under-investment has led us to the point of collapse. Later this year, when myself and Herself are going to need the health services most, it is possible that the hospital will try to force and inducement requiring more drugs and more invasive birthing techniques in order to have a 12 hour turnaround in deliveries (there are elements of hearsay in this). Delivery rooms should not be considered Ryanair cabins. It is extremely worrying but not at all shocking given the sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in. We don’t have a post-code lottery here in terms of treatment, but I have the feeling that this is purely due to all treatment being of the cheapest, lowest order (again, hyperbole alert). This is not to say the staff are not fantastic. Some of the midwives and nurses we’ve come across have been 100% absolutely amazing and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Policing in Ireland has been written about at length. It is very hard to see what can be done without a complete dissolving of the Gardai a la the L.A. PD in times past. Sack everyone and only rehire those who you know you can trust, or at least, don’t rehire the worst. Good, law-abiding people I know have had insane experiences with members of the force purely for trying to stand up for what they believe is right.

Anyway, I’ll end my first post here, rambling and unfulfilled that it is (biting off more than one can chew, anyone?).

Don’t worry, there’s dick jokes on the way.

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