When I was 12, my grandmother sent me a birthday card saying that I had finally reached the age of wisdom and reason… Yeah, about that, sorry to break it to you Gran, but I think it took a couple of decades before I got the message. Or did I? Immature with knowledge and experience it is then!
Ok, this is just a short visual one. Ideal for a Sunday roast’ side order, you will need the following:
- 1 celeriac, peeled, washed and chopped
- 1 tsp of mustard (pick one with a kick, Dijon or English)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 10cl of fresh cream
- Salt and pepper
Boil the cubes of celeriac ( ideal size for blending later) with the cloves of garlic ( it will tame them down a bit). From cold, bring to the boil and simmer for at least 15 minutes. Check after that until soft…
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!
Before being catapulted into adult life, we were taught a couple of life saving skills. After lunch, wait at least two hours before you go swimming in the sea, never EVER drink white after red, it takes ten minutes to get a hardboiled egg from the boiling point, spaghettis are cooked when they stick to the wall, how to make a vinaigrette, and, what was going to separate the men from the boys, the sheep from the goats; how to make your own mayonnaise. In a region almost surrounded by water, it was only going to be a matter of time before a friend or a family member would ask nonchalantly while preparing the crab claws and meat: “You do the mayonnaise, yeah?” You knew then that the last task of your right of passage had come before you.
This is my take on Fish ‘n’ Chips, less messy, fast, easy, tasty, healthy. Monkfish, oven roasted wedges, crispy pancetta and cream of garden peas… Let’s go:
- 1 tail of Monkfish, skinned by your fishmonger, they won’t mind and their knives are sharp
- A good handful of Buckwheat flour, white flour will do too!
- Dried dill, or even mixed herbs.
- Salt and Black pepper
- Fully cured and sliced pancetta (100g – 150g)
- A good hanful of garden peas
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 lemon
- 1 large potato sliced in wedges per person (or more!)
First, cut the Monkfish into bite size nuggets, not too big, not to small, put them into a plastic food bag, with the flour, the dried herbs and the black pepper. Shake the lot until well coated. Pre-heat the oven at 200c and on a tray, lay the thin pancetta strips side by side. Bake for 5 minutes until crisp then lift with a spatula onto kithen towel.
For the pea purée, bring the peas to a boil in salted water, just for 5 minutes with a clove of garlic; sieve and cool straight away, blend them with olive oil and lemon juice (2/3 for 1/3). Put them through a sieve and keep pushing them through with a spatula.
For the potatoes, cut them into wedges, rub them with olive oil and sea salt and bake for 20 minutes (until golden).
For the fish, give the bag another shake, take an olive oiled pan and when hot, place the nuggets and cook for a few minutes on each side. Pinch of salt all over, crumble the pancetta over the fish, with a wee drizzle of lemon juice to your liking… Enjoy!
This is to me the best way to cook carrots.” Papillotte” which is often used to cook fish, works brilliantly with our favourite orange root. It will keep its colour, natural sweetness and if you forget about it, they won’t turn into a tasteless purée. So remember to follow this few easy steps for your next Sunday roast!
Peel and chop the carrots, get a fresh piece of thyme or rosemary, and a couple of garlic cloves. Cut two pieces of aluminium foil, pour a bit of olive oil on the first sheet. Place the chopped carrots, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper…
Use the other piece of tin foil and place over the carrots; fold at least twice, neatly now, the four corners until you get a pillow like rectangle.
In the oven it goes for 25 minutes at 200c… If you go a bit over, don’t worry, that is the great thing about papillote cooking! Be careful before opening, it gets pretty hot. I just make an incision with a knife on the top layer… Do not try to unfold with your hands!
Keep Well and Eat Happy