Showing posts with label County Cork Mysteries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label County Cork Mysteries. Show all posts

Friday, November 17, 2017

Irish Food

If all goes as planned, by the time you see this I’ll be back in West Cork, admiring the “improvements” to the cottage, including the very large rock, and collecting food supplies.

My husband hasn’t been there in a year, and my daughter, who will be joining us, hasn’t visited Ireland since 1999. Back then I remember a lot of terrible watery stews, all apparently based on the same recipe: Irish bacon (more or less like our ham), cabbage and potatoes. Place in a large pot, cover with water, and boil for a week or two. You could find it about anywhere in the country. (I will concede that the soda bread and local butter were always good.)

My, how things have changed! I was listing for my husband the places I wanted to revisit or visit for the first time on this trip, and far more than half turned out to be either restaurants or food vendors. At least my daughter has grown up to be a foodie, and is now a professional baker, when she isn’t acting with small theater troupes, and I want to show off to her what the Irish chefs have achieved since she was there last.

I’m torn between going to restaurants, large and small, versus buying fresh ingredients and cooking in my own tiny kitchen. When I acquired the cottage, the first thing I bought was a water-color from a local artist. After that I went straight to equipping the kitchen, before I bought more than a couple of pieces of essential furniture (a bed is handy, when the floor is concrete!). I’m getting by with the original appliances (although I am so coveting a Neff Slide-and-Hide stove, as seen on the Great British Baking Show—I think there’s room for it), but I’ve acquired decent cookware from a variety of second-hand dealers. And of course a hot-pot and French press for coffee, and a microwave.


Skibbereen Farmers' Market
I’ve raved about the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market before. Seafood, two tables of local cheeses (I’m partial to the gubbeen), locally smoked salmon, the lovely cookie and sweets baker I just discovered this past summer, bread in shapes I can’t even describe, vegetables that were picked that morning, plus assorted "tat."


Seafood, including monkfish!


This is only half the cheeses they have.
Mind you, this market has been there for centuries, literally—it is not the brainchild of a marketer who decided to create a magnet for upscale blow-ins (those pesky furriners who buy up the local properties—I don’t count as one because my name’s Connolly, and I had “people” in the area). People of all ages and descriptions show up at the market on a Saturday, then sit and chat. There’s a antiques dealer I’ve gotten to know (in his spare time he’s an editor and writes mysteries), and various people who have odds and ends to sell (at a very good price!). At this time of year there may be a jumble sale at the church on one side of the market. This isn’t food shopping—this is an experience. Which is why I always plan to be in the area for at least two Saturdays. 

And I adore the local supermarket, Field's SuperValu, which has food and more. 


Field's vegetable section: "Golden Wonder" potatoes
The candy aisle is six feet high and twenty feet long.




The baked goods are wonderful.



And this time of year you can get fresh game!




Oops—no recipe here! But I’m plotting one for my post next Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t yet know what it will be (turkey is unlikely—the Irish save that for Christmas--but maybe a pheasant?) but I’m hoping I can figure out how my 1950 cast-iron Rayburn cooker works and produce something edible.


My cooker (I've cleaned it up a
bit since). Fuel goes on the left,
and you bake on the right. I'm
still trying to figure out what some
of the other parts do!
Wish me luck! 

Oh, right, books. It's definitely a week for the County Cork Mysteries!


The trade paperback format for Cruel Winter will be released on December 12th (just in time for holiday giving!), and . . .















the next book in the series, Many a Twist, will be released in hardcover on January 9th! Read more about it here.

I won't give anything away, but a lot of old questions will be answered.


www.sheilaconnolly.com




Friday, September 1, 2017

Gratin of Cod Irish Style



We got to our market very early this past week, and most of the fish hadn't been put into the case. But they had some very nice local, never-frozen cod, and this is Massachusetts, where the gilded Sacred Cod hangs in the House of Representatives chamber the State House in Boston, so that's what we went with.



So what's Irish about this? I have, at last inventory, at least eight handsomely illustrated Irish cookbooks. One of them is Darina Allen's A Year at Ballymaloe Cookery School, published in 1997. In case you've never heard of Darina Allen, she has been called "the Julia Child of Ireland," and she's the owner and head chef of the above-named cooking school, which just happens to be in County Cork. I'm saving my pennies to take a class there. But as it happens, she was at the Skibbereen Farmers Market a few weeks ago, so of course I introduced myself. I managed not to gush. (Sorry, no photos--I didn't wish to appear too much of a groupie.)

The fact that she was there, at a market nearly two hours from her home base, on a summer Saturday, is a tribute to the market. (I believe she was buying cheese.)



I found this recipe in her book. Of course I tweaked a few things, but luckily I had the ingredients on hand, including Kerrygold Irish cheese, and this is delightfully quick and simple to make and lets the fish speak for itself. (BTW, My husband approved with the first bite.)



As ever, I cut this recipe in half for the two of us, although I kept the original amount of sauce because, well, I like sauce. I also added the tarragon to the recipe, because I thought the tart taste would go well with the Dijon mustard, and I happened to have a bunch of fresh tarragon on hand.

And if anyone can explain to me how you divide a large fish fillet into similar-sized pieces that will cook evenly, I will be eternally grateful. At least in this recipe the sauce kind of insulates the fish pieces, so none were overcooked.


Gratin of Cod

Ingredients: (Note: original amounts given)

6 pieces of cod fillet (total 36 oz, 


   cut into 6 pieces)
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups grated aged Irish Cheddar cheese
1 Tblsp Dijon mustard
4 Tblsp heavy cream

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking dish large enough to hold all the fish pieces in one layer.

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Arrange the pieces in the dish in a single layer.




Grate the cheese. Mix it with the mustard and cream and tarragon and spread over the fish on both sides. (It can be prepared to this point and refrigerated.)


Ingredients, mixed

Ready for the oven
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The top should be golden and bubbly.



Thank you, Darina--it was delicious. We'll be making it again. (And hope to see you again soon!)




Right now I'm between books: Cruel Winter (County Cork #5) was published last March (the sixth book in the series, Many a Twist, will appear in January 2018), and A Late Frost (Orchard Mystery #11) will come out in November. Which does not mean I am slacking off! I'll be launching the new Victorian Village series in June 2018, and I'm already writing the second in that series (no cover yet). I'll try to keep you up to date!

www.sheilaconnolly.com

Friday, August 11, 2017

An Irish Pasty?

Okay, I'm almost out of new Irish recipes (from this trip), but this one sneaked up on me.

I will happily cede the title of Pasty Queen to Rhys for her Cornish version. I'm not sure I've ever seen an official pasty in Ireland, and the ones shown online seem to lean toward beef stew in a crust. 

But I was having a nice lunch at The Coffee Shop in Union Hall (I love their house-baked pastries! see their Facebook page), and I ordered what was described on the menu as a chicken and Camembert panini with pesto. It arrived, and I was so intent on eating it that I didn't notice that it didn't quite fit the definition of a panini, which usually calls for something between two pieces of bread, pressed to cook, leaving a nice grilling pattern. 

What I got was delicious, but I actually observed it being made: no press involved. However, it did have a wonderful short crust, which I envied. And the filling was flavorful and interesting, so I decided to recreate it (as best I could). Call it whatever you like--it tastes good.

An Irish Pastypannini a la The Coffee Shop

Ingredients

(note: this recipe serves two, but you can expand it or make a second batch later--I had plenty of chicken and cheese left over))

1 recipe pie crust (I shamelessly borrowed Lucy Burdette's version of the Moosewood crust, which actually held together!) It is the simplest version I have ever seen.




Filling:




one chicken breast, skinned and deboned, lightly cooked 



a small amount of pesto, to rub into the chicken

a small Camembert cheese

1 egg, beaten (this is the glue that holds things together)

Instructions:

Make the pesto, to your taste. I used fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt and pepper (no garlic, but add it if you like). Mash them together and massage the chicken with it and let it sit for a while to absorb the flavor.

Saute the chicken lightly in a bit more olive oil. Don't worry if it's not cooked through, because this is going into the oven once the thing is assembled. Let cool, then slice about 1/4-inch thick.




Slice the Camembert to about the same thickness.




Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and grease a baking sheet.

Make your pie dough (I used a food processor). Combine the flour, butter and salt and process until it looks like sand. Then add ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until it holds together. Turn it out on a wooden board and form two balls.




I considered adding something like mayonnaise to the inside, but the contents are fairly delicate in flavor, so I decided against it. The crust is very buttery, so the results won't be dry.




Roll out the first ball of dough into a rough circle. Lay three or four pieces of the cooked chicken on one half, then the same number of slices of cheese on top. Don't overfill, or it will never hold together!

Beat the egg lightly, and brush some around the edge of the crust. Fold carefully and crimp the edges together--you want to seal this. Repeat with the second one. Brush the tops of both lightly with some more egg.




Place on the prepared cookie sheet and slide into the middle of the preheated oven. Set the timer for ten minutes, then check to see that the crust has begun to brown. Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes. The chicken should be nicely cooked, and the cheese with be gooey. (And they didn't leak!)




Slice in half to serve. These can be served warm or at room temperature.




You can vary your ingredients however you like, but this is a nice combination. If you have some leftover chicken, you're home free. You can swap in a packaged pie crust if you want (easier still!), but I've never seen a simpler pie crust recipe, and I've tried at least a dozen.



Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming next January. Maura actually gets to eat in a variety of restaurants. I'll make a foodie out of her yet!
www.sheilaconnolly.com



The real Coffee Shop in Union Hall










Friday, July 28, 2017

Warm Chicken Salad

This recipe was inspired by one I enjoyed in Ireland, but there's nothing particularly Irish about it. It's a lovely summer recipe, easy to make, and you can swap in any ingredients you want.

The source is The Harbour Bar in Leap, just a few doors down from Connolly's, er, Sullivan's Pub. When I first saw it, it was an ordinary pub, one of a cluster on the main road through the village. Then it changed hands a few years ago, and the new managers tore down the old building and completely remodeled it, and found a chef who created menus of local Irish food with an Asian twist. I've been going back ever since, and I've never been disappointed.

This recipe is simple: take whatever greens you like, add a tart creamy dressing, sautee a marinated chicken breast, slice the chicken thinly while warm, combine the lot, and toss in some croutons. It's best if you use local greens only minutes away from the garden, and make your own croutons, but you can buy a bag of lettuce and a box of croutons and you might never notice the different. The end product combines crunchy, creamy textures with savory flavors, and a nice contrast between warm and cold (okay, you could use left-over chicken, but if it's freshly cooked, it's both warm and soft).

Warm Chicken Salad (with a nod to the Harbour Bar)
(this recipe makes two servings, but it's flexible)

Ingredients:

one boneless chicken breast, marinated with olive oil, chopped shallots, salt, pepper and any herb you have on hand, fresh or dry

The US version


The Irish version

one package (or harvest your own) lettuce of your choice (the Irish call them
"mixed leaves" which always makes me giggle)



creamy yogurt dressing:


1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tblsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tblsp minced shallot
1 Tblsp chopped fresh chives
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt

1 cup fresh croutons (I made my own from a brioche roll because I didn't have any packaged ones--just cut up whatever white bread you have handy into cubes and place in a low oven until they turn crispy but not brown)

Instructions:

If necessary, skin and bone your chicken breast. (A note: the ones they sell in markets here are huge. The ones they sell in Ireland are half the size. You can decide how much chicken you want, or cook yours and save some for later--or for your cat.) Whisk together the marinade and let the chicken steep in it for as long as you like.

Rinse your greens and let them dry. Make the croutons if you're going to.

When you're ready to cook, saute the chicken breast in a little olive oil. Important note: cook this over medium/low heat (until it's cooked through)--you don't need to sear it, you want it to remain tender and juicy. Keep an eye on it and turn it a few times so it cooks evenly.



While the chicken is cooking slowly, whisk together the yogurt dressing ingredients and dress your greens.

Dressed greens

When the chicken is cooked, place it on a cutting board and let it cool enough to handle. Then slice it thinly on the diagonal. It may sound odd, but you want the lettuce and the chicken slices to be similar in size and scale.

In individual bowls, place a bunch of your greens, then tuck in some chicken slices (do not overcrowd). Sprinkle with the croutons and serve immediately while the chicken is still warm.

The assembled salad
And there you have the perfect summer dish!

Doesn't it begin to sound as though I go to Ireland mainly to eat? I adore the Field's SuperValue market (I even have a frequent buyer card), I can't stay away from the weekly farmers market (every Saturday, with not only food but crafts and junk), and the burgeoning restaurants (you read about the newest one last week). Maybe next year I'll be able to go to the West Cork Food Festival.

Oh, right, I go to Ireland to do research for books--between meals. But young Rose in the County Cork mysteries is fast becoming a foodie. And that's only one of the unexpected turns in the next book, Many a Twist (coming January 2018).

Available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

www.sheilaconnolly.com








Friday, July 21, 2017

The Good Things Cafe

In case you missed all the shouting, I'm in Ireland right now--I arrived over a week ago, and I'll be back next week (please, can I stay longer?). The purpose of this trip was (a) to get the cottage into shape, with paint and curtains and the like (and to confer with my very ambitious handyman), plus (b) do research for the County Cork Mysteries, which involves talking with my police friend and my bookseller friend and anybody else who'll hold still long enough.

But of course there's food. I think I've said in the past that I plan any trip to Ireland to include a visit to the Skibbereen farmers market, which is amazing (and one of the best in the country), and also visits to local restaurants. When I first came to Ireland nearly twenty years ago, the food was as bad as you'd always heard. Now it's terrific.


On the corner on the right
The Good Things Cafe, in the center of Skibbereen, is one of the latest additions, and it's really amazing (check out the website at www.thegoodthingscafe.com). They serve food in a delightful corner restaurant that is both nicely designed and also welcomes all kinds of people--when I had lunch there, I saw a young mother with a small child, three middle-aged ladies lunching together, and a couple of guys from down the street. Normal people enjoying good food. 

The place is the brainchild of chef Carmel Somers, who's worked in restaurants before, in a different part of the country (starting with a small cafe next to her parents' pub). She created this restaurant from a blank canvas: she was responsible for the kitchen (of course), setting up a sunny space that makes room for as many as six cooks working at once, and also creating a set-up for cooking classes; she designed the layout of the ground floor space, and even selected the glassware and china. But her most important contribution was her philosophy of food--absolutely fresh and local, combined in ways that are interesting without being trendy or silly. Just good cooking, and she oversees every part of the process.

And she gave me the opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for years: to observe a working restaurant kitchen. I squeezed into a corner and just watched.




Yes I did eat: a lamb-burger with eggplant and more than one spicy sauce with a middle-eastern leaning, accompanied by a quinoa salad with fresh herbs and some mixed leaves (lot that term!). Upstairs in the kitchen (yes, the young staff does a lot of running up and down to deliver food) I watched one of the chefs making one of the sauces that decorated my lunch, and it took him close to half an hour, adding one ingredient at a time and tasting, tasting, tasting. The place is not big: one gorgeous six-burner gas stove (those are expensive!), a large stand mixer, and a walk-in fridge the size of my bedroom at home (well, almost). And of course work space on stainless steel islands, that Carmel designed for the space.





Carmel and the saucemaker
And beyond the food (as if that weren't enough) I had the chance to talk with Carmel about how you put together the kitchen you want, how you staff it (a lot of young kids, who work around their school hours and during the summers), how you design a menu. This wasn't just idle curiosity: I want Rose in the County Cork series to really find her calling in cooking, and Carmel reinforced what I've been thinking. Any young chef has to really care about making good food, and serving it well. And that's how Rose feels.








Do you have to wonder why I love Ireland? Beautiful views, clean air and water, and great food. I will definitely be going back to the Good Things Cafe.





Don't forget our giveaway, which ends next week! Click on the cheerleaders for the details.

Promo? How about a peek at the cover for Many a Twist, the next County Cork Mystery, coming in January 2018?