Food news: Buy better - buy Irish
Panic buying at this time of year doesn't just apply to gifts, but also to food. We've all probably been guilty of buying too much, usually because we haven't bothered to sit down and work out exactly what it is that we need.
I know that I always buy far more breadcrumbs than I should, and end up throwing half of them out because there's no room left in the freezer and they've gone mouldy. And somehow the mountain of leftover parsnips never quite gets turned into the soup that I planned. I hate squandering food, and I'm determined not to allow it to happen this year.
Buying less but better quality food is a good way to approach the Christmas feasting, and it's also an opportunity to support the small farmers and producers for whom this is a crucially important time of year, if they are to remain viable.
So, in the week before the big day, try to take a quiet hour to make a considered shopping list with the quantities worked out properly rather than heading to the supermarket and flinging food into the trolley recklessly. Think, too, about the impact that your spending can have, and do your best to support Irish growers and producers. There's very little in terms of Christmas food that can't be sourced in Ireland, and Irish food is at an all-time high, in terms of the range and quality of products that are available.
Examine the labels on the food that you buy carefully. Supermarket brands that appear to be Irish can be anything but, and there are retailers who appear to have no compunctions when it comes to pulling the wool over their customers' eyes.
So instead of buying farmed salmon from a made-up lake in Scotland, read the label and buy Irish organic smoked salmon from one of our great artisan smokers. Instead of a turkey crown from God-knows-where and an industrial ham pumped full of chemicals, seek out a free-range bird from your local butcher and a piece of ham that's been made from a pig that lived a decent life. Instead of imported Stilton, explore the world of Irish blue cheeses, and choose Crozier Blue, or Young Buck, or Bellingham Blue. And when it comes to chocolate, prepare to be impressed by what the new generation of Irish chocolatiers - companies such as Clonakilty, JE Sweets (available at Avoca stores), Hazel Mountain, Bean & Goose, Rhoda Cocoa and L'Art du Chocolat (who have collaborated with The Butler's Pantry and some of their artisan suppliers to produce an exceptional range of seasonal chocolates) - is doing.
SALT OF THE EARTH
Without salt, food lacks flavour says Michelin-starred chef, Shaun Hill, whose latest book encourages the creation of food that tastes good, rather than just looks good. Confidence comes with experience, he says, and a little greediness is a great advantage for cooking. Kyle Books, £25.
GUEST CHEF AT CAMPAGNE
You'd usually have to travel to Gregan's Castle in The Burren to try David Hurley's exceptional food, but on February 8 he'll be cooking at Campagne in Kilkenny. The five-course dinner is €65. (056) 7772858.
KING OF THE KITCHEN
Paul Flynn (pictured) will be teaching his perennially popular men-only course - "geared towards those who fancy themselves as chefs" - at the Tannery Cookery School in Dungarvan on February 11. The full-day course is priced at €180, and includes lunch afterwards. tannery.ie