Meat doesn’t come cheap, nor should it ever be scrimped on

Frankwater is a Bristol based charity that provides much needed water in India.

For International Women’s Day this year they ran an event at Carousel Restaurant in London that I was invited to cook at, alongside three other women chefs.

Olia Hercules is a London based chef, brought up in the Ukraine who’s book “Mamushka” took the culinary world by storm last year. At the event she cooked slow cooked pork bun, a speciality of her region that involved pork belly cooked with cabbage, caraway, apricot and coriander. You’d never think of pairing cabbage with dried apricots but it worked so well. It inspired me to buy a pork belly from Alan Bailey of Pheasant’s Hill farm in Killinchy, who has a stall at St George’s market every week. The cut was from his Tamworth pigs and has just the right ratio of fat to meat. The meat itself is red, not insipid white, as good pork should be. Meat like this doesn’t come cheap, nor should it. The smell of porky goodness, combined with spices, onion, vinegar and garlic was delicious and the resulting dish a triumph. Olia ripped the meat and encased it in bun dough which was baked ( check out the Saturday Kitchen website for her recipe) but I took a short cut and served it with some spuds that had been grown outside Coleraine, at Galbraith’s farm – and no less wonderful.

Another chef working that evening was Maria Elia who has Cypriot heritage. Keftades are traditionally balls of spice infused meat combined with cheese and breadcrumbs that are then fried. Maria made a vegetarian version, using roasted carrots instead of the meat. As anyone worth their salt will know, Northern Ireland produces the best, sweetest carrots in the world and this recipe allows them to shine through beautifully. Maria’s recipe is included here this week. Her latest book “Smashing Plates” is well worth sussing out for inspiring recipes.

My job on the evening was to do the dessert so I made a whiskey custard with new season poached rhubarb, honeycomb made with honey from Garvagh, and a flakemeal biscuit. Flakemeal biscuits are something that we take for granted here. I used my aunt Doreen’s recipe and the response they elicited made me so proud and laugh at the same time. It was funny to see these renowned chefs take down the recipe and eat the biscuits like they were a culinary revelation! “Why would you ever make boring shortcake again,” was Olia’s response. When you flick through the latest WI cookbook, there are scores of recipes like this melting moments, shah biscuits and tealoaf that are equally as stunning. When you think of a soda farl, potato bread or slim gently cooking on a griddle with the waft of slightly scorched flour and buttermilk filling the air, it makes you realise what a fantastic food heritage we have here. When I cook farls in any other place in the world they always get a great reception. Last year in Kansas, I made butter and used the resulting buttermilk to make them and they got a reception that we would normally reserve for rock stars here. Granted Americans can get a little bit more excited about things than we do...

Another thing we do brilliantly here is produce lamb. With Easter coming up I’ve included a recipe for leg of lamb based on one my sister in law Dorothy makes.

She slowly roasts the leg slowly in white wine and aromatics, but I’ve substituted the wine for local dry cider and it works equally as well. The tender, soft lamb works really well with Maria’s crunchy carrot keftades.