Well, this is a classic of French cuisine. Great on a plate of crudity ( with grated carrots in an olive oil and lemon dressing and cooked beetroots with an orange and yogurt dressing). First operation, you need to peel the celeriac, then start cutting it in very small strips…
For the mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
1tsp of english mustard ( or dijon)
Olive oil added little by little
salt and pepper
a drizzle of lemon juice
Whisk until thickened in a large bowl drizzle of lemon at the end…
Put the celeriac thinly sliced in the mayonnaise and fold gently, ready to serve with cold meats, slices of sourdough, pan fried white fish or with other crudities.
I used to know that French chef; arrogant, aggravating, a “je ne sais quoi” of rudeness and a pinch of sarcasm. The whole package. No country and no town were ever good for him, so his judgemental ways forced him to be of the nomadic kind. He rang me one day with the news I have been dreading: “Hello, how are you? Guess what, I am in Ireland!”… Great. Thankfully, I never had to work with him but we did share an interest for food and we met the odd times in the local pub. It wasn’t long before he started criticising the local cuisine. He had developed a particular hatred for Coleslaw, something that was alien to most French people then, but like bacon and cabbage, we had incredibly similar things! I pointed out that “Macedoine” was one of them, a medley of cooked carrots, peas and beans, mixed with lots of mayonnaise and served rolled inside a slice of ham ( now I think about it, it was pretty gross…). The other one, much closer was “remoulade”, thinly sliced strips of raw celeriac, served as a crudity starter; it delivered quite a punch of flavours. He shrugged his shoulders in dismissal and finished his pint.
This amusing anecdote came back to me the other day as I was visiting my organic vegetable guy in Mullingar. He had some lovely Irish celeriac, so it gave me an idea for a little bit of fun. First – and for old time sake – I decided to make a remoulade, which brought me back to my school days, a popular starter in our canteen! Well, popular with the intendant in charge of writing the menu that was…
What I love though, is cream of celeriac, so comforting and full of flavours, ideal as a side order, with lamb or beef. Since I am less and less fond of lamb (don’t ask, I don’t really know myself), I went to the Flood Brothers, butcher shop and social magnet of my village. They gave me a nice piece of filet, local… Aged nicely. For the cream of celeriac, it couldn’t be easier; peel the root and wash the dirt off. Slice it into tranches and then into cubes. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil add the cubed celeriac as well as two cloves of garlic in and cook until soft (about 15 minutes, keep checking with the tip of a knife after that). Drain the water off and put it in a recipient suitable for blending. Add a bit of black pepper, a tsp of mustard and a splash of fresh cream (not too much, you can still add more later, 10cl should do).
I served my filet steak with it, and some honey roasted raw beetroot wedges. A simple seasonal feast. As I was enjoying my late lunch in the kitchen, my mind went on a rambling, thinking about my rude French chef acquaintance. I realised that I haven’t heard of him in nearly 14 years, how time flies! The last time I saw him, he was packing to go to work as a chef for a petroleum company, far, far inside the wilderness of Siberia. Never heard of him since. Like an old friend used to say: “ The good Lord doesn’t pay out every Friday, but when he pays, he pays well…”
One thing is for sure; in Brittany people do not need an excuse to eat crêpes or pancakes. Whatever you want to call them, we actually call them Krampouezh so (pronounce “Krampooz”). We have two types; the crêpes are for dessert and made with wheat flour, the “galettes” are savoury and made with the legendary buckwheat. It is easy enough to find Buckwheat flour if you check your local health food store. I have selected this recipe which is ideal for both sweet and savoury.
Hungry Breton Buckwheat Pancakes
375g of Buckwheat Flour
125g of white flour
50cl of milk
50cl of water
A pinch of sea salt
1 levelled tsp of baking soda
The beautiful thing about buckwheat is that it doesn’t make any lumps while whisking. Take a large bowl for comfort, and put in the two flours together, the salt and baking soda. Give it a dry whisk to mix everything together. While whisking, add the milk and stir to a thick dough first, go on, show a bit of strength, you can do it! Keep whisking and add the rest of the milk, then the water. The secret now is to leave the dough or rather batter, to rest in the fridge for a few hours, ideally overnight.
The making is a bit tedious but so worth it at the end. In a bowl, mix some melted butter and a mild oil. Roll an old piece of material into a ball and tie with a bit of string. This is just brilliant! Oil a hot pan, and start the process. Pour the batter in the hot pan, and tilt quickly the excess back in the bowl for thin crêpes, leave it for thicker ones. Almost ready when you see a nice brown marble forming, time to flip, are you up for it? Otherwise, use a plastic spatula.
The topings are entirely up to you; this is the magic of crêpes. I used this time a roasted Italian salsiccia and thinly sliced sweet cabbage (come on, we are in Ireland after all!!!) that I braised in a good beef stock for a few minutes. A bit of butter before serving et voilá. For dessert, I had kept and froze some blackberries from the plentiful month of September 2014 that gave so generously. Stew them for a bit with a bit of water and sugar or honey, serve with a bit of whipped cream… Or, or, if you are feeling bold, you can always melt some 70% cocoa dark chocolate with a bit of butter or fresh cream, pour over the crêpe and put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. Enjoy!
My mother’s short enough life didn’t get off to a great start. Thinking about it, it didn’t end like a fairytale either, unless you count some of the Grimm Brothers’ work she loved so much, on technicality it qualifies as one.
Born a couple of years after the end of the Second World War, life was tough for most. Beautifully illustrated in Jacques Prevert’s poem “Barbara”, Brest had been levelled by the allies, as well as Lorient, the city where she was born. Raised by her grandmother, her own mum had gone for a brave fresh start in Paris. To make ends meet, my great Gran made pancakes while my mother would deliver them, on foot or with her bicycle. Sometimes, I believe, people would even come in the kitchen of the small dwelling to enjoy the notorious crêpes. The stories of this small enterprise gave my sister and I great entertainment at bedtime; the little girl, who through hardship by selling crêpes with her grandmother, grew up to become a teacher.
Funny enough, rare were the times when she made them in the house; “it’s too messy” or “I don’t have time”, “maybe on Wednesday”… Never mind. Once a month at least, we went to the Crêperie; Italians gave the world Pizzerias, us Bretons, the Crêperie. That’s it. That is just the way it is, “get over it!”
My routine consisted of three crêpes, or rather one galette and two crêpes. Savoury, galettes were simply made with the nutty and wholesome buckwheat flour, trademark of the Breton cuisine. The most popular was with ham, cheese and egg; when one ordered, the waitress would ask how would you like your egg? “Brouillé” (scrambled) or “Mirroir” (mirror, meaning not scrambled I guess), either way, an absolute nightmare to pronounce for the English speaking visitor! Another popular choice was with scallops and leek fondue or a rustic sausage and braised cabbage; the surf and turf of our peninsula.
For dessert, it had to be only one thing. Dark chocolate sauce, make it two actually, uncompromisingly delicious and so rich! My father enjoyed his forth with gently stewed apples and flambéed with our local poitín called “Lambig”. We were too young for cider, even the mild stuff; well at least not in public; the odd time we might get a “go on then, just a sip”. This over indulgence often resulted in my complexion to rapidly turn duck egg green like, close calls but never deterred! “Until next time folks!”… Until next time.
This week was “pan cake Tuesday”; we have a similar day in Brittany but it is a bit earlier. Called Chandeleur, it has religious origins too, but takes place forty days after Christmas. It is said that one would toss a coin in the pan; depending on the landing, the year would be believed to be good or bad… Very native! I was in and out of the house to take some pictures to illustrate my little story. I sat in front of the fire, determined to eat the models that posed for the shoot. Even though I enjoyed it very much, I couldn’t help thinking: “This is like sipping on a pint of Irish stout at the terrace of a harbour bar in Lorient… Just not quite the same”.
There is a cloud hanging over Ireland for the last three days, red hearts and at the same time pink goo pouring out of every pixels of my laptop. I don’t mind, nor care for either of them. The birds have started singing but it is still quite cold. I opened the fridge, and my neurotransmitters were “doing 90”! How can I satisfy that craving for comfort and inner peace on this dull Friday evening? Hang on… Got it!
The main actors
1 head of broccoli
170g of bacon sliced
For the cheesy sauce
100g of butter
1 handful of flour
20cl of milk
100g of Feta cheese
1 grated garlic clove
A splash of dry white wine
First, cook the main ingredients, boil the broccoli from cold until the first heavy simmer ( you want them a bit firm) then cool and same operation with the potatoes( you want them cooked through). Slice the bacon or if you have diced pancetta, by all means, knock yourself out. Set aside, you can put the potatoes and broccoli in the pan with the bacon and toss gently for extra flavours.
For the sauce, we are entering the béchamel, aka “white sauce” zone. It is all about low heat on the stove. Place the butter in the sauce pan and let it melt. Add the flour and keep stirring; gently add the milk, little by little, keep stirring, until you get a desired thickness, not too thick, not too thin. Crumble the feta in and only salt after, as the famous Greek cheese can be pretty salty. Plus you have bacon in the dish too! Add a splash of dry white wine; this will give a bit of fruitiness to the sauce. Ok! We’re ready. Place evenly the potatoes, bacon pieces and the broccoli in an oven dish, pour the sauce over and bake at 200c for 15 to 20 minutes.
A perfect dish for the weekend!
This as to be one of the top 5 of comfort food. Here is the way I make my mashed potatoes. Nearly almost always…
5 Large Irish Roosters
15cl of milk
150g of butter
80g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt (to taste)
Cracked black pepper
1/4 of a nutmeg grated
1 Sprig of rosemary
Well, the important part is to cut ( and peel first) the potatoes into similar sized pieces. Rince them well if you want a clean finish. In a cold pot they go with a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil gently, let them simmer until cooked. ( Check from time to time with the tip of a small knife). I like to put in a bit of rosemary. It’s done? Drain well and back in the pot it goes to dry excess water. Add the butter and all the ingredients but the milk, or at least just a bit of it to start; you don’t want your mash to be too liquid. Add little by little. With a potato masher of your choice, start the operation while it is still quite hot. Elbow grease is what you will need most of now!
You should get a smooth enough finish. Sometimes, I let it cool and transfer it into an oven dish, for a delicious crispy top. Enjoy!
That was it. I finally got there, woken up from an uncomfortable sleep. The nasal call screech from the bus ‘speakerphones announced my arrival to the antechamber of the “Big North West”; after reading all the books, attended conferences and Dervish like audiovisual slide shows. My Bus Eireann ride was laboriously one point turning and reversing into its terminus allocated space; A skilled job well done. While the warning lights and the monotonic Morse code like reverse gear of my ride were still on, I took my green and yellow rucksack as well as a couple of unmatched travelling bags from the hold. It was late and pitch black; no amazing landscape I got drawn to a few months back, just the warning orange beacons of a 45 sitter on wheels, and the olfactory welcome of a turf and coal shandy, spewing from chimneys of the neighbouring terraces. I was only three hundred yards from my friends’ home, a safe house, a warm bed and a line in the proverbial sand that was going to be a brand new life. We all have to begin somewhere; Sligo Town was to be my Starting Blocks and I never looked back.
The mornings that followed were very much like a Groundhog Day but in a good way. Benbulben to my North East, Knocknarea and the Ox Mountain to my West and South were covered with fresh snow; handicapped by the fact that I didn’t drive and therefore, didn’t owe a car, I walked a lot. Like Travis in the iconic movie “Paris – Texas”, I walked. I walked to Queen Maeve’s passing grave, where a North Connacht Farmer (NCF) milk man would crack a few jokes with me, and I walked the 8 kilometres separating me from the Yeats County Capital to the battered shores of Rosses Point. Twenty years old, and already I felt the need to heal or to feed the cravings for a similar Atlantic I had left behind. The ride – for sure – promised to be fun!
I n February 1995, I had to face the fact that all my training as a wildlife campaigner and ornithologist may not be able to put butter and brown bread on the table; I was feeling sorry for myself, tired of scrounging free pints of stouts from the local Francophile elite.
A friend of mine worked as “Front of House” for the – then – cool place to eat Hotel / Restaurant, hanging precariously above the Garavogue River. Basque born, the Head Chef involuntarily built up a team into an avant-garde multicultural crew; they gave me my first taste, quenching a thirst and premiere to my first cooking theatre experience. My “compatriots” stood side by side, very proud of the fact that they managed to negotiate my first wage at £2.00/ hour. You know, when you are so proud, like parents at Christmas, unconsciously holding their waist with their hands… Nice one. I guess I had to take my medicine and start!
I was to become, well at least for a while, the Head Chef’s kitchen porter; that meant, replacing the poor lad that sliced his fingers on the “Ham Machine”. The pots were black with carbon, victims of years of bad treatment from the stove burners. I had no professional points of reference in the field, so I cleaned the pans to their original – or just about – glory. The owner of the hotel gave out to him: “ Chef!!! If you go and buy new pots, I would like to be informed… At least!”. The Chef laughed in a respectful way and pointed out in a French southern accent gobbledegook, that the pots had just been cleaned by the new, yet innocent, temporary kitchen Porter.
The funnier side of my job was to prepare the vegetables, for lunch and dinner. I had to peel, slice and chop carrots and parsnips. My mission was to make them absolutely tasteless to the diners. I did salt them though, which angered the chef. Little did I know then, Irish people used to salt their food before tasting it; he told me that my carrots were perfect, but I had to be ready for some serious complaints. Wah?
The day after I was given the task of making “mashed potatoes”. I was standing there, sink all clean, spud peeler in my right hand, apron wrapped up around me like an apprenticed Shogun. Bring it on! “No need, no need!” said the Captain, “we have a machine for that!”. The heavy metal robot like was able to wash and peel potatoes… This was stuff of Science Fiction to me! All I had to do was to chop and boil them (no salt? Come on guys!!!), drain them, put them in the bread mixer, add heaps of margarine and a “little bit” of white pepper. White pepper… Yes… A “little bit” of White pepper… Ach sure, a little bit extra for luck won’t hurt right? The only pepper I knew at that stage was whole green and in brine, quite inoffensive, or cracked black, in a stew, on a rare piece of steak or on Emmental cubes for the aperitif. You get the hit, then the taste; the white pepper, gives you the taste, then the long, long, long hit. I guess I found out the hard way… So did the poor people in the dining room below…
I often make that bread; focaccia like, it works really well with a full Irish or a healthier breakfast like this one. I also serve it when I make a curry or even Couscous, you know, for the sauce. So Hungry “B”’s bread? Here we go.
200g pasta/ pizza flour
10cl of warm water
2 tsp of dried yeast (if you can get fresh one, by all means… Ask your local baker or pizzeria for a bit).
1 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of organic Greek style yoghurt
1 tbsp of rapeseed or olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Put the flour in a bowl, I prefer organic in general; throw in a pinch of salt. In a bowl, pour in 10cl of warm water, 2 tsp of dried yeast and 2 tsp of sugar. Give it a stir and put in a dark place (the press or “cupboard” or even the oven ( yes, leave it off). After 10 minutes, you should get a cappuccino like foam. Pour the lot with the flour; add the yoghurt and the oil. Start with a spoon or a fork, then my friends, use your hands. I like to keep the dough relatively wet. Cover the bowl with cling film and back in its dark place it goes for thirty minutes. Put the dough on a floured baking tray, just like that, roughly flatten with the palm of your hand but don’t fuss too much. Pour a bit of olive oil on top and some coarse sea salt. Bake at 200c for 15 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool for a bit. You will find that the bread has an amazing soft texture.
To dress your breakfast, spread the bread with soft goat’s cheese ( nothing too strong in this case), thinly slice a ripe avocado and squeeze a drizzle of blood orange. Fry an organic free range egg gently for 5 minutes (I cover the pan with a bowl so the yolk can remain soft but not runny).
Serve with a glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, a great healthy and tasty way to start the day!
In an oiled pan, sear the beef; don’t be shy now. Chop the vegetables. In a pan, infuse the gin with the herbs and Juniper Berries on a very low heat; this operation will help to get the most of the flavours. Think of it as a herbal tea. Pour the gin mix with the beef and let it reduce. The chopped vegetables go in, let all the flavours dance together. Cover with water and let the whole thing simmer for at least two hours… Or even three if you can. Let it rest for an hour and reheat as often as you wish. Serve with rice, a cheesy mash or roasted roots 😉
If I was to be asked about Irish Optimism, my left eyebrow would probably rise ½ an inch higher than it would normally sit. While my – normally placid – face would stare at my interlocutor, I would find very hard to swallow the fact that February 2nd is, to some, the beginning of springtime. I have, to my advantage, a strong case to present. Exhibit 1./ A giant poster of the Moon that saw me growing up. Exhibit2./ A light globe that has been at my bedside table for the best part of my youth… Exhibit3/. The fact that there is still a lot of snow on my townland and that the lovely lady from RTE TV Irish weather forecast, warned us that our area could reach a possible- 8c tonight; With a potential risk of snow. Call me weird, but when it comes to Spring, I am more of a March 20th kinda guy.
Saying that, I love winter. I love the fact that Mother Nature covers the land with an icing sugar like dusting. My simple pleasure is to roam the hills and forest of the western “Royal”, on a quest for inner reflexion, ballet of pain and joy while being exfoliated by battering frozen snow. The motivation behind that self inflicted punishment could probably be measured and evaluated on a psychoanalytic level. After physical pain, comes the healing of a hot bath, ready salted peanuts binge, might be tamed – elbow style- by a cold bottle of beer… In the case of a self inflicted winter hike around Oldcastle’s Loughcrew Cairns… All I wanted was just a bit of comfort, a hand knitted scarf, a turf fire ,a hug and a feed that would illustrate the latter.
I went to my local butcher and got a pound (500g) of stewing beef. I had bought some juniper berries a while back and despite the harsh temperatures of January, some rosemary and thyme remained healthy enough. I got a wee bottle of Gin from the local Pub (20cl) and I infused the lot together to release the flavours. No boiling though, just gentle.
First, in a hot oiled pan, sear the beef until you get a rich brown colour; half way through, I put a clove of garlic or two. Chop the selected vegetables, in this case carrots, two cloves of garlic, celery and a large onion; I also thinly sliced a bit of ginger for extra kick. While all is sweating for a bit, pour in the gin and herbs. A healthy glass of red wine goes in too, for colour and “carpentry”, then let the lot reduce for a bit; A pinch of salt and pepper for luck and cover the dish with water. Let the whole pot simmer for at least two hours. Serve the stew with a parmesan flavoured mash… A simple hug, in a world of brutes!