My aunt often says to me that my mother was great at cooking meats; her beef Bourguignon was to die for and the treat for my father, on a cold Sunday, was her osso buco with flageolet beans and boiled potatoes. I guess I took it for granted, as children do, with a nonchalant face while playing with their fork, unaware of the love that was actually put before them. When she passed in 1997, I was only 25; at that stage, I had made my first baby steps in the kitchens of Sligo and Galway, before I got a phone call, before I had to sail away to say farewell, but that moment was never to be as she left before me. I inherited though, some lovely memories and a scrap book full of tender mess and quirky recipes from days long gone. My only regrets? I wish she could have seen Ireland, an Island she loved and supported through the “troubles”, through the struggles… She really did! The other one I guess is, that I would have really loved to have cooked for her… Just once. “But hey! Listen to me! This wasn’t meant to be no sad song” as legend Paul Brady puts it so well… We’ve heard too much of that before… We sure did!
I must admit, the journeys to my native Celtic peninsula have become a slightly sporadic affair in the past few years; the time between visits is getting less frequent. They say that life gets in the way, and I get the odd “oh sure, you are one of us now!”, or almost. The truth be told, we all have to cast anchor some day, voluntarily or not, or simply coming to terms with the inevitable. As a teenager, I often dreamed of my perfect place to live; lighthouse keeper of Ar Men, rock of all rocks at large of Sein Island, self sufficient in Swedish Lapland’s Sarek National Park or even honorary Highlander on the western Hebrides islands of Scotland. They say that Bretons never leave their native land… They bring it with them. I suppose this is true, there is a Gwen a Du flag (“White and Black”) hanging at the back of my office chair, a Breton map in the living room (old fashioned, but really neat!) and a hell of a lot of Atlantic sea salt in “the press” and butter in the fridge! The stripes to this Zebra…
First, separate and wash the florets of the cauliflower; as always, and especially for this vegetable, I would recommend to buy organic. Boil in salted water for 5 to 8 minutes; you can check with the tip of a knife but you don’t want them too soft. Drain and cool under cold water. In a pan, pour equal measure of milk and fresh cream, a whisked egg, a pinch of Saffron, a grated clove of garlic and a pinch of salt. Warm up ever so slightly in order to extract the best of the saffron stems. Place the florets in a buttered oven dish and pour the mix over. Grate a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) on top and I love to cover the whole thing with a layer of bread crumbs. But that is entirely up to you.
I don’t know what is worse really; December’s over indulgences or January self flagellation? The debate is open. You can juice broccoli or bath yourself in Aloe Vera, the truth is we are still in the middle of winter, long nights and short days passing, cold lights and windy greys drifting. Don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t miss out on the peak season for small comfort treats.
Stews and soups are fun but I find satisfaction and healing in a good gratin. Anything “al forno” in fact, potatoes, pasta… Bring it on; but since we are trying to be good here, I have another idea to meet each other half way, the cream of vegetables, the blossom of all Brassicae, the flower of all cabbages.
Last Saturday, I visited my local butchers, like a modern yet nonchalant hunter and gatherer, I was getting my weekly food shopping of course, but also having an opportunity – an excuse – for a bit of craíc and banter, a chance to catch up with the local news (some might call it “gossip”, but I will not lower myself to that level… Anyway, keep that for yourself, I’ll tell you later…).
I got taken by their latest creation, a Pork and Apple burger. I didn’t want to just put it in a bun; after all, a lot of effort went into designing this dish. The previous night I had made some lovely mash potatoes, with some grated Coolea cheese from Cork, a two year old Irish Gouda if you prefer, sweet and parmesan like somewhat. That was half the battle…
For the sauce, I decided to do a creamy apple juice sauce. I had a small bottle of Karmine apple juice from Tipperary, “The Apple Farm”. It is sweet with a hint of tart, perfect for a family dish like this; its execution is actually quite easy, just a bit of preparation will go a long way. It is also a great wink to both Brittany and Ireland: they love their apples, in whichever form they come into. Pictures and recipes below.