I often make this dish, it has it all. Tasty, easy to make, it makes a great Sunday dinner, a midweek special treat or a feast after a grand day out. My mother used to make pork steaks in a big pot, slow cooked with onions, garlic and peas, slightly burnt at the bottom, it was delicious too. To save on a lot of dishes during and after cooking, I do mine in a papillote , which is really between two sheets of tin foil. It keeps all the flavours of the ingredients that you put together. One tip though, leave the greens out or they will turn brown. Apart from that, go for it!
This has to be my little Masterpiece, I designed that recipe over 10 years ago, making it a bit more special every time. The idea behind was to make and marry cheese and dessert together; if you have ever been asked for the option in a French restaurant, you will understand. That way, you keep everyone happy… First, you need to get yourselves some pears, but since they are going to be cooked in wine, make sure they are not too soft!
If there is a dish that has been made by at least three generations of women in my family, it has to be Blanquette. Funny name for the proverbial duvet cover of comfort foods methinks, but I think it refers more to the colour that the dish, which in its final stage, rewards the eye with a beautiful white colour and silky texture.
It is traditionally made with veal but the availability in Ireland is next to nil. On another note, I do not care too much for it, partly for ethical and anthropomorphism reasons… Don’t ask.
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.
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!
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…
But when I do go, there is always – and a lot – of a special something I like to bring back; our legendary and inimitable salted butter biscuits. No Scottish Shortbreads or Swedish Drömmar could reasonably match the buttery galettes (thin) or Breton Palets (literally meaning “Puck”, as in Hockey the sport; we also have a game using a puck… It is a bit like darts on the ground).
They come in beautifully decorated tin boxes, often inspired by Gauguin’s paintings which got inspired by the beauty of the Brittany he loved, lived and drew from… So I guess that’s fair enough don’t you think? Fair enough…
So today, I decided to open a box of memories, create my own bit of home at home; in a bowl, I mixed 2 egg yolks with 80g of sugar and a little drizzle of a freshly squeezed orange, you know, until they get to a lovely and white ribbon like texture. In the blender, I whizzed 140g of organic white flour and 80g of salted butter. A wee pinch of fleur de sel sea salt, the zest of 1/2 an orange and half a tea spoon of baking powder ( this should give you about 20 biscuits). With a spatula, I poured the mix in the blender and gave it a couple more pulses. Once ready, I put the lot back in the bowl and kneaded the lot a bit more. I made the dough into a ball, wrapped it in cling film and in the fridge it went for a couple of hours. Now, the fun could begin.
I rolled the dough on the table, leaving a desired thickness. With a small pastry ring, I started to shape my buttery “pucks” on a baking tray and a sheet of wax paper. A quick “egg wash” with a pastry brush and in the oven they went for 20 minutes. Keep an eye out (or in) as this can go pretty quickly.
Time goes quickly when one is having fun while anticipating the taste and smell of fond childhood memories. I let them cool gently on their tray and once cooled, gave them a good home, an old tin once filled with delicious Pleyben’s Galettes, now long devoured. Who cares? I’ve just made my own!
I made myself a nice cup of coffee, essential dip for the delicious biscuits. Thursday’s snow was still there in the garden, waiting for its next batch, soon to be delivered from the Arctic north and about to hit my adoptive land, half way between the North Atlantic and the Irish Sea, my cottage in the middle of the Island, surrounded by lakes, forests, megalithic hills and drumlins … You never know do you?