Great lazy flavours
Fast food has come in for a royal bashing lately and, with certain exceptions (stir-fries, for example), quite right too. The irony is that traditional slow-cooking methods may be easier on your time than rushing to get a meal on the table in a hurry.
Getting organised several hours ahead leaves you free to do other things while the dinner is gently cooking away, and you can use less expensive cuts of meat in slow roasts and casseroles that are meltingly tender and have more flavour than pricey prime cuts.
Traditional dishes such as Irish stew or beef and Guinness casserole make tasty comfort food, but there's plenty of variety with this cooking method, including great Sunday roasts that will give you a second meal for lunch the next day. Buying a bigger joint gives more value, and will cook better than smaller pieces of meat that may dry up.
An Aga or another range-type cooker with a slow oven is ideal, otherwise you can use an electric slow cooker (very easy on the power bills) or any oven on a low setting.
Ask your local butcher about the best cuts for slow cooking, and look online for delivery services too. One service that I've found reliable is Nigel Cobbe's SimplySourced (www.simplysourced.net; 087 057 0000). Last July, Nigel began by offering free-range Saddleback pork and rare-breed Longhorn beef, delivered to customers in Dublin and Wicklow. Since then the range has expanded dramatically, and they now deliver nationwide. "The response was overwhelming," Nigel says. "We seemed to tap into a demand and a frustration from our customers at not being able to source high-quality, ethically produced meat."
This reflects views at the Euro-toques National Food Forum last September, when chefs discussing pork agreed they would be willing to pay more for better quality.
But from SimplySourced, for example, you can choose casserole boxes from only €25. Just remember that rare breeds tend to be smaller than mass-produced animals. However, they make up in flavour and texture anything they may lack in size.