Don’t you just love it? You are at work, you have a recipe in mind, you know that you have all the ingredients at home and in this case it was a head of broccoli, I needed to use for a simple but tasty gratin. I also wanted to use Michael Finnegan’s new cheese from Slane in County Meath called Boyne Valley Bán; a goat’s cheese tomme he has been experimenting for a while… I love it! Anyhow, I made it back home to the house at 6:30pm, only to realise that the broccoli in question had turned completely yellow, it was actually warm, the whole top shelf of the fridge had been bathed by the light bulb of the once cold appliance. I thought: ” Great! What now? A new fridge?”. The culprit was in fact one of my cats, “Shaky Leo”, a charming young black panther who suffers from “C.H” ( Cerebellar Hypoplasia) which causes him a lack of full control of his movements and some great “Free Styling” moves… In one of his “Parcour”, my little friend ended up opening the fridge slightly… All day… Good bye broccoli…
Hungry Breton parsnip soup
With coriander and Camelina oil
It was in 1998, the first time I got reacquainted with an old vegetable; to be honest, I had never heard about Parsnips until I moved to Ireland. Shame on me I know, but this wonderful root had almost disappeared from the French culinary landscape. Related to carrots and funny enough parsley (the vegetable Kingdom is full of surprises, just as much as the animal one; did you know that cranes and coots are related?), it is amazing that one of the world’s gastronomic nations had lost its touch with “Le panais”… I am dying with embarrassment here, as I haven’t even heard of its French word until then. Ireland though, never gave up. Before fancy restaurants and fancy chefs put it back on the menu, often as a roasted form, I first fell in love with parsnip when I tasted it in a soup. My Parisian colleague, who hailed from a long line of chefs and cooks, knew all about the auld root.
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…”
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!
This is based on a stew Story
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!
A Breton Far Story It was the winter of 1985, like every morning, my Donkey Kong – now vintage and completely obsolete – pocket game rang 6 am… It was a normal December morning, crisp, frosty and bright; my eye lids were still stuck together, shimmering glitters of somewhat pleasant dreams. I washed my face and quickly headed downstairs for my cup of cocoa; a fat slab of bread and butter and the other with apricot jam; waiting for me. All seemed to be fine, but there was a more than usual sense of anxiety in the air. We were radio heads; always on, and our national weather forecaster, René Chaboud’s voice was disturbingly grave. To be honest, it went way over my head. I had other things on my mind, as Noël/ Christmas was closing in, meaning no more 6 O’clock in the morning “ding-dong”, no more 10 miles bus journey, and at the end… “Pressies” under the tree… Before I rushed outside to catch the communal bus, my dad grabbed me by the elbow; he handed me two pieces of “Far”, a healthy Breton Flan-like cake, made of eggs, flour, sugar, rum and butter; I loved the prunes that made the bottom layer. He just said: “Share that with your sister, will you?”… “Sure.” As if I could eat more than a 5 cm2 of my mother’s “Far”… Seriously.
We arrived at school at 8 am, sharing the usual pleasantries with my comrades, the ritual exchange of probably toxic jelly sweets, puerile gossip and innocent speculations about what our Christmas presents were going to be… For sure! The dreary bell of this old giant military hospital that was our national school, felt like a funeral knell… Well, a bit more than usual. By lunchtime, the skies had fallen over our little Atlantic town, with unusual heavy winds filled with thick snow. Uncontrollable excitement overwhelmed our history teacher, who joined in the effervescence of soon to be teenagers. The screeching sound of the internal speakerphones started to call one after another the names of each bus companies we came in with, gathering outside for an emergency “extraction”… Could this day get any better?
The truth is, it did. You see, in those days, there were no mobile phones, no quick social media messaging and only one payphone for 1,200 kids. So when your Breton Mammy said “never take the bus home in the evening”… No matter how dramatic the situation was that day, the thought of upsetting a strict matriarchal order was out of question. So under an amazing blizzard, huddling like two frozen Herring Gulls, we waited outside the gates of our school, which started to look like an Arctic penitentiary… That is when our Breton Far pieces came handy, warmed up our hearts as I was breaking bread with my little sister. Good times. My Mother’s 1975 Opel Kadett pulled outside the gate, driven by a friend of the family and colleague of my Dad, an almighty truck driver who absolutely relished the challenge.
We made it home safe; the weight of the heavy snow, knocked a few electric cables, but that was ok. We were all home sound and well, the candles were lit, the coffee was making a trickling sound as it was being hand poured ( as always) through the old red Melitta filter holder: “ More Breton Far Mr René?” said my mother… Somewhat grateful.
Recipe in the recipe section 😉
I was sitting at my desk at home yesterday, trying to send a few emails, get some inspiration by playing music while staring through the sash window at the swaying Crocosmia. My attention got caught when I noticed a little blue box, containing some neatly sharpened coloured pencils my nieces and nephews enjoy drawing with. As I was bored, I stuck my nose in it, expecting a flash back memory that didn’t disappoint; back to school and my pencil case, the last week of bliss before being sent to the pillory. As a form of acceptance, the last few days of freedom were quite pleasant, mostly foraging blackberries, with our neighbours and friends. The pain of lacerated limbs was soon to be healed and forgotten by my mother’s legendary “slurpy special” , straight from the pot, soon to be devoured by a small army of stained faces; the last meal for the condemned scallywags we were. As I was trying to reconnect with these delicious berries, nature sometimes gives so generously, I imagined them as a savoury ingredient, definitely with fresh goat’s cheese, a great companion to a pork filet roast … But I had another plan this time!
A friend of mine, organic grower from another local Meath townland gave me some fresh raspberries and apples; mine are still a bit green. What I have though, is a field at the back of the house full of blackberries and my first crop of Aronia berries, I planted last year, a taste between a blackcurrant and a blueberry if you wish with a lovely zing. Not as tart as sloe berries, we used to eat as a dare and it felt like your whole mouth was shrinking from the inside!
When we were good, or rather when she felt like it, my mother used to make this lovely apple cake, moist and delicious; she used to let it cool on the window seal of the kitchen of the old school we used to live in… Well, above the school. Since she was a teacher that was handy! I realised that the recipe leaves the door open to a lot more things than apples. All the fruits of my local foraging were going to go in. The recipe includes 200g of flour, I did twist things a little and put 150g of organic white and 50g of organic buckwheat flour… For extra nuttiness…
This recipe is a great little number. Its simple frame will allow you to have a bit of fun. Berries, Apples and also quince paste, which makes it an amazing surprise with a good Irish Blue cheese! I have posted the recipe in the “recipe” area of the blog (dah…), my Mum would be pleased to share this one with everybody, the same way my “compadres” broke bread and shared her blackberry jam by the side of the road… Before heading back to the classroom benches!