Showing posts with label pheasant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pheasant. 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.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving in Ireland

I may have mentioned that I live near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Yes, that place where Thanksgiving began. Recent archeology seems to have pinpointed exactly where the first settlement was located—where those poor cold and hungry settlers were struggling to survive, with a little help from the local Indians.

But right now I’m not at home, I’m in Ireland. This is a nice time to travel to Ireland, since it’s not too crowded and not too cold. And this year I’m setting up my own cottage (including the kitchen), which is a real thrill.

I’ve been visiting Ireland since 1998, and it grabbed hold of me then and never let go. Now I own a half-acre piece of it, in sight of where my great-grandparents were married, and where the bride’s family, the O’Regans, had lived for generations. I can see the church steeple from my land. Rather than braving a new and unknown land, I’m taking back a bit of the old country.

But this is a food blog, right? Let me say up front: Irish food is great. That wasn’t true when I first visited, when watery stew with lots of potatoes and carrots was all too common. Now it will stand up to anyone’s cuisine. I’m not talking about fancy white-tablecloth places, I’m talking about little storefront restaurants with a couple of hardworking women turning out simple tasty and creative dishes (I promise I’ll share one of those with you soon).

Here's one good example, from the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen: a warm steak salad.
The steak was sauted with coconut milk, soy sauce and red chiles and served on "mixed leaves"
(don't you love it?)

I’m madly in love with the Skibbereen weekly farmers’ market—I plan my visits to include at least one Saturday there. The local supermarket Fields is also terrific, with fresh game, and bread baked daily, and an amazing array of cakes (the Irish do seem to love their sweets—maybe that’s where I get it).

Freshly-baked bread
From the farmers' market: on the left,
goat cheese with fresh herbs; on the right,
gubbeen ( a local specialty)

Yes, that thing at the bottom left is a rabbit
I passed.
But I had to have the pheasant.

But I can’t give you a recipe right now because I’m still getting to know my kitchen. The appliances all work, but they’re tiny by U.S. standards (no way an American turkey would fit in that oven!). We’re still scrubbing and sanding and filling and sorting and so on, and we’re lucky if we can even see a countertop. I’m also still buying all the “essential” cooking tools. Give me a few more days and it will be ready to roll.

It's coming along. At least all the
appliances work!

In addition, I have a vintage Rayburn cooker (the Irish term for stove/oven). It dates from around 1950, so it’s probably original to the cottage. I’m hoping that as soon as I get it clean(er) and patch up a few joints, I can manage to produce something like food in it—at least a loaf of soda bread!

My Rayburn cooker, ca. 1950

I am grateful to all you followers that have read our books, which helped me find a way to reclaim a piece of my own history. Don’t worry, I’ll be headed back to Massachusetts soon, but I hope I’ll be able to get over here a few times a year. So now I have two homes, each with its own history.

Next week: a recipe! (I hope). 

Cruel Winter, the next in the County Cork Mystery Series, coming from Crooked Lane in March 2017.

Of course I'm doing research here! No snow yet, but definitely frost in the mornings.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Cook a Pheasant

By Sheila Connolly

Well, there’s something I never thought I’d find myself saying.

I’m just back from two weeks in Ireland, doing research for the third book in the County Cork series.  This difficult and dangerous task consists largely of sitting in as many pubs and possible and talking to people—the ones behind the bar and the ones in front of it—and eating in a lot of restaurants and driving around the rolling countryside and taking lots of pictures.  Oh, poor me.

For the past three visits my husband and I have rented a cottage, since it’s less expensive than staying in a hotel or B&B for the same amount of time, and because it lets us cook at home rather than eating out every night.  Plus this time of year the days there are short:  the sun comes up about 8:30 and sets about 4:30.  If you’ve ever driven the small lanes of rural Ireland, where they’re often no more than a graveled pair of tracks, and most of the directions consist of things like “turn left at the post next to the old tree,” then you can appreciate the desire to be tucked safely at home when it gets dark. The only drawback is that you may find an odd mix of cooking pots and utensils in your rented kitchen.  At least this place had a decent assortment of sharp knives, but the cutting board was about six inches square and not good for much. Nor was there a covered casserole to be had, but we managed.

And then there’s the food!  Time was (and I’m sure I’ve said this before) that all Irish food consisted of overcooked cabbage and carrots and a lump of meat.  No more!  It’s wonderful now.  There’s a new pub/bistro in the small town I write about, that was under construction last year.  It opened last winter and is doing a booming business, and the food is great.  It’s bright and airy and attracts both tourists and locals, young and old, men and women and even a few children.  It’s clearly a family business—and a wonderful addition to the town.

But, oh, the markets!  Bread made daily, fresh veggies, seafood from boats that unloaded no more than a mile away.  And this year I found something I hadn’t see before:  wild game. 

Now, I’m not a hunter, and I don’t seek out such things, but I’ll admit I was intrigued.  How often will I get the chance to cook wood pigeon and grouse and partridge and pheasant?  I could have tried all of them, but I restrained myself and settled for wood pigeon one night, and pheasant another.

The wood pigeon I sautéed in butter, then roasted on a bed of vegetables, with a little fresh thyme and white wine added.  I served it with local potatoes fried in duck fat, also from the market.  Lovely (although I will admit that there was not a lot of meat on the tiny birds).

The pheasant came later, and proved meatier.  Picture me in the hills of West Cork, sitting outside on the patio trying to get a phone signal (no reception inside our stone cottage, and patchy at best outside) so I could look up online how long to cook a pheasant.


Fearing the bird might be tough, I decided to braise it in stock and wine.  I split it and flattened it, then sprinkled salt and pepper and sautéed it in butter and oil. I sliced up an onion and some lovely fresh mushrooms I had on hand, then
sauteed them in the same pan. I spread the cooked veggies in a baking pan, then laid the bird upon them, and added chicken stock and more white wine, plus some more thyme (I was trying to use up as much as I could before we left).  I then covered it with foil and put it in a preheated oven (medium—we were guessing 350 degrees, but it was a rather unique stove, that also provided the heat for the house), and cooked it for about an hour.  It was fine, cooked through but still tender.  I served it with pureed potatoes (translation:  they fell apart when I boiled them, so I just threw in butter and cream).

One caveat:  since this was indeed wild game, not farm raised, the label warned that we should beware of bird shot.  We did indeed find and average of two pellets each, but we chewed carefully and survived without mishap.

I may never again find myself cooking a pheasant, much less one of those tiny birds, but this one was a success.

And I found some other great recipes that you just might see soon…

Coming February 2014