Something for St Patrick’s day: Colcannon


Colcannon. An Irish classic. How appropriate for St. Patrick’s day. I love the name. Sounds as if it should be something very exotic doesn’t it? Wikipedia tells me it comes from the Irish cál ceannann, meaning “white-headed cabbage”. Basically, what we have here is mashed potato and cabbage.

Surely there can be no more versatile foodstuff on the planet than the potato. It is hugely taken for granted. For me, along with the chilli pepper, it was the greatest benefit for Europe to come out of the Columbian exchange (aka Grand Exchange). Surely, this story has to be the great food story in the history of mankind. It is a centuries long story of global power politics, population explosion, massive social revolution and upheaval. Don’t believe me? Then go and look it up for yourself. Brought to Britain by Sir John Hawkins in 1563, the potato seems to have mostly taken hold in Ireland in the mid 1600s. I can think of no better example of the mayhem and upheaval brought about by the exchange than the long association that Ireland has with the potato. This plant would, of course, have been unknown to the 5th century missionary, St Patrick, who bought Christianity to Ireland.

How to make Colcannon.

If anyone reads the postings on this blog they will have noticed the absence of quantities, precise technique, method and so on. That’s because this is a food blog and not a recipe blog or a cooking blog or a technique blog. I you want that kind of thing there are plenty of others around that can do a far better job than I ever could. If there is a food creation where precise quantities and method are less appropriate than Colcannon then I can’t think of it.

All you need: potato, cabbage, parsley, butter, milk, salt and pepper.


Chop it up:


Cook the potato until soft. Then mash with some butter and parsley. A splash of milk helps bring it together. Note: I’m using a hand masher. You can whizz it if you want but this gives a better texture. If it shouldn’t be quite consistent and I end up with the odd ‘solid’ bit that’s great. I like that.


Then add in the cabbage which I’ve sweated down, kind of how you might sweat down onion, in some more butter and a smidgen of olive oil. I like quite a big dice and to put plenty in, roughly a third of the total, maybe more.


As you can see this is simplicity itself and quick too. In contrast, I hope you will also consider the long and complicated history that goes with it.

A word on mashed potato: Recently, I’ve seen all to many tv chefs producing a sad, gloopy, soupy, puree of butter, milk and potato and calling it “mashed potato”. Yuk. At the end of the day mashed potato should be just that, potato mashed. Not pureed but mashed. You only need a very small amount of butter and just a splash of milk to bring the thing together. I have no objection to creamed pureed potato, you understand, but I do like it to have body and bite. I blame modern cheffery which, all to often, leads us to believe there is always a “right” way to do things. There isn’t. The everyday home cook when faced with a chopping board should be encouraged to do what is right for them. If I don’t like my salmon slightly pinky in the middle then I won’t make it that way. Any TV chef who says salmon should be slightly pinky in the middle can sod off. It is time for the masses to reclaim their kitchens! It is time for revolution! If only Che Guevara had written a cookbook. So there! Rant over. Anyway, I suspect I may not alone in this point of view.


How Much Does it Cost to Make a Beef Stew at Home?

Stew 1The question in the title invites more questions. How are you making it? What ingredients are you using? How much are you making?

But one thing is sure. It should contain beef. If my stew should also contain pork then it would be a beef and pork stew. The clue is in the title and the detail is in the label. This is the core of the current food scandal galloping across Europe. The scandal being that quite a number of prepared food products on sale are “contaminated” with horsemeat. By contamination we are talking up to 100%!!! As I write this the scandal and it’s associated investigations continue to run on. The opinions and outpourings from institutions, retailers, journalists, government departments vary widely. Is it fraud? quality? greed? pickiness? labeling? In time things will become clear. In the midst of all this it is tempting for those of us who don’t buy these things to smugly sit back and sneer at those stupid, lazy people who can’t be bothered to get their fat arses off the TV sofa and in to the kitchen. But that would be wrong. This kind of adulteration is abhorrent.

One issue which crops up from time to time is cost and profit. For those who buy these kind of products price is a big factor. This, in turn, adds to the incentive for supermarkets to put pressure on suppliers which in turn forces supplies to find ever cheaper ingredients. It is easy to see how the temptation to supplement with cheaper horsemeat can arise.

So back to the question. How much does it cost me to make a beef stew at home? How much would the ingredients cost me on the same day compared to, say, purchasing an own brand ready meal version?

Firstly, I need to make a couple of things clear. I am in no way suggesting that this supermarket is in any way guilty of bad practices or victim of bad practices or their own brand is in any way deficient. I believe this supermarket to be a good competent and honorable organisation and I like them. For the purposes of this blog they just happened to be the supermarket I generally use and it was convenient (on the way home from work). Secondly, I am not in any way claiming what follows is at all scientific or anything like that. It isn’t. But, still, it may be of some interest.

The basic ingredients:Stew 2

Diced beef, potato, turnip, onion, celery, carrot, parsley. In addition, I used some oil to brown the meat, a tablespoon of tomato puree, a knob of butter and a couple of cloves of garlic. The stew was made up with 500ml of beef stock made up from a cube. I used half of the celery and the parsley.

Here is the receipt:Stew 3

Next, I have to adjust this for using half of the celery and parsley and not taking advantage of the 3 for 1 offer. Take off 55p for the celery and 40p for the parsley. If I had used the 3 for 1 offer the beef would have cost £10/3 =£3.33, so take off 67p. I make that total deductions of £1.62. So, £7.73 less £1.62 equals £6.11. Plus, say, 9p for the store cupboard. This yielded 1645g of stew. Divide one by the other and I get 620p/1645g = 0.38p per gram. Still reading?

The supermarket version:Stew 4

The own brand has dumplings. Mine does not.

Stew 6

The recipe is different too. Not least, they are using swede not turnip.

So my comparison is not an exact one for one comparison. It is comparing what I would do at home compared to one I could buy prepared for me.

The bottom line:

Stew 5

400g of my stew cost (0.38px400) = £1.52. But then, I didn’t have dumplings.

I’m not going to make any claims here. Nor am I going to offer any conclusions. Nor am I putting up any suggestions. Like I said, this is in no way a scientific. But I am putting this forward as food for thought to those who buy ready meals.