Cookbooks Tried and Tested: Rory O’Connell’s Cook Well, Eat Well.

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me remind you all that I live in Cork and that Rory O’Connell is a local food hero. I am, in this case, a biased reviewer. Fortunately, his book lived up to expectations…and then some.

Rory O’Connell’s first book, Master It, won the prestigious André Simon Food Book Award in 2013. It is, in essence, a concise cookery course with sections devoted to various techniques: stocks and soups, pan-frying, casserole-roasting, hot puddings, a few cakes, and so on. In his second book, Cook Well, Eat Well, O’Connell continues in the role of teacher but this time presents his recipes in a series of separate menus.

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Each menu contains three courses, a starter, a complementary main course and something sweet to close. The meals are arranged according to the seasons and for each season there is one vegetarian meal. O’Connell takes seasonal cooking as his starting point …Click here to read on.

Looking Forwards.

Flabbergasted. That’s the best word to describe my response to this package, delivered by hand, last weekend.

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It contains a stack of my own letters, written twenty years ago to a dear friend. Confiding, probably moaning a lot, grieving, figuring stuff out…at least that’s my best guess because I haven’t managed to take more than a cursory glance. I read two lines and felt dizzy. 1996 to 1998 took me from a failing PhD project, through a bereavement, to engagement, marriage, moving to Italy and my first pregnancy.

I hate reading back on my writing. It’s like hearing a recording of yourself, ugh.

Still, that stack is just sitting there. I’m not sure I want to look back? What would you do?IMG_5555 (2)

The break from making school lunches and the Mummy-Taxi service has gifted me lots of quiet moments to faff about with my camera.

Filling a vase with flowers from the garden is one of my greatest pleasures and the first Spring gatherings seem the most joyful of all. These small flowers don’t have a huge impact in the garden but, gosh, don’t they look lovely when you take a close look.

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This tiny jug belongs to Small Girl’s doll’s house. It hardly holds a drop of water but can accommodate a teeny weeny bouquet of forget-me-nots. Good things, small packages, a little silliness, big smiles.

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All that’s missing is a chick…IMG_5478 (2)She’s eyeing up that egg with a suspiciously greedy look.

Oooh, and this one too:IMG_5539 (2)

I didn’t spot the greenfly until just now!

I spent an evening happily churning out little baskets from Eleanora at Coastal Crochet’s lovely pattern. Small girl happily accepted the task of filling each basket with mini-eggs and then we used them to decorate our Easter Tree. It’s a bit wonky and things keep dropping off it with a thud. IMG_5568 (2)

But still, it has made me happy.IMG_5556 (2)

Prepare yourself now for the silliest, cutest picture this side of Easter…this put such a smile on my face…ta-daaah:

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The evenings have stretched and we’ve had glorious golden light streaming in. Our den, a miserable dark cave in winter time, has come back to life. This is the view from my desk if I swivel right. Everything seems lighter, brighter, a little bit easier.

It’s time to look forwards.

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Have I mentioned how much I love April?! I have? Can you blame me?

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Crystallised Flowers.

crystallized flowers.

And breathe.

Last week was a bit nuts. I interviewed Darina Allen (Genie Mac, I can still hardly believe that really happened), published what is without doubt my favourite of my Cooking The Books projects so far ( I truly adore that book) and, AND saw my name in print, for the first time, in a magazine.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017.

 

Actually, I have been published before. My last publication was in 1997, in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiolgy, and looked like this:

A Mutant of Listeria monocytogenes LO28 Unable To Induce an Acid Tolerance Response Displays Diminished Virulence in a Murine Model
LYNDA MARRON,1 NATHAN EMERSON,1 CORMAC G. M. GAHAN,1,2 AND COLIN HILL1,2* Microbiology Department1 and The National Food Biotechnology Centre,2 University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Received 27 June 1997/Accepted 25 August 1997
Exposing Listeria monocytogenes LO28 to sublethal pH induces protection against normally lethal pH conditions, a phenomenon known as the acid tolerance response. We identified a mutant, L. monocytogenes ATR1, which is incapable of inducing such tolerance, either against low pH or against any other stress tested. The virulence of this mutant was considerably decreased, suggesting that the acid tolerance response contributes to in vivo survival of L. monocytogenes.

Feel free to indulge in the full article here. Are we still awake?

I’ll put it on the record here that L. monocytogenes LO28 nearly killed me. I so desperately wanted to be scientist and I really thought I could be. I was really good at learning stuff but it turned out that I wasn’t very good at the nitty gritty of discovering stuff and that flipping bug refused, stubbornly, for three stinking years, to do what it was supposed to do. Anyway, I think we can agree that my more recent publications are a good deal prettier and probably more useful too.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017. Sultanabun.

That’s Mark Diacono, by the way, of River Cottage and Otter Farm fame, who’s sharing my page! My only grip is that they never used that bio pic that Middle Daughter and I went to such great lengths to produce.

Sticking with a theme of prettiness, I want to share the method I used to make those crystallised flowers on top of my ultimate chocolate cake (for recipe see Cooking The Books, here).

The ultimate chocolate cake.

Fittingly, the method is from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course book but she shares it in this Easter Baking post from the Irish Examiner. (Honest to God, the good people at Ballymaloe are not paying me to advertise for them!)

crystallized flowers

Crystallising  flowers is not difficult, only a little fiddly. You simply paint the flowers gently with egg white and then sprinkle them with very dry caster sugar (dried in a low oven to make sure). The flowers should then be allowed to dry in a warm place.

You can learn from my mistakes: I grew impatient (a perennial flaw of mine) and stuck my flowers into my oven at the very lowest setting. It worked well enough but the colour was dulled and they lost their vibrancy.

Teenage Daughter made a much better job of hers. The Small Girl made some too but ate them before she could be asked to pose for a photograph.

crystallized flowers.

Teenage Daughter has the practical part of her Junior Cert Home Economics exam today. Her task (it’s a lottery) is to make a main course and a dessert from fresh fruit or vegetables. Her dessert will be her own variation of Lilli Higgins carrot cake , this time making one layer carrot and one of courgette cake – it really works! We’ve been eating it on a regular basis for the last few weeks while she practised. My expanding waistline is evidence of my daughter’s diligence. It’s a delicious cake and she will decorate it with this icing and her gorgeous flowers.

I’ll collect her later on with all her bowls and paraphernalia and, fingers crossed, a successful cake with just one neat sliver eaten by the examiner!

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Excellent Irish Fiction.

Excellent Irish Fiction

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Lá Féile Pádraig Shona daoibh go léir.

I thought I might mark the day by telling you about some of my favourite Irish authors. These are contemporary authors whose books I have loved over the last few years.

Excellent Irish Fiction

Sebastian Barry writes poetic, sparse, spine-tingling books. The Secret Scripture is built around conversations between a very elderly resident of a regional mental hospital and her doctor. We know by now that, in Ireland, you didn’t have to be crazy to wind up in a mental hospital. You can watch a trailer for the up-coming Jim Sheridan film adaptation here. It looks good and Rooney Mara’s Irish accent passes the grade.

You can read my review of Barry’s magnificent latest novel, Days Without End, here.

Sebastian Barry. Days Without End.

John Boyne. I have to steel myself to read his books because they invariably leave me in tatters. I’ve heard that his new book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, has a bit of humour so maybe he has been listening to reader feedback!

Everyone knows The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you haven’t read it, you simply must.

The most recent of his books that I’ve read was A History of Loneliness. This is all I managed to write about it at the time:

‘If you want a true insight into the Irish pysche you should read John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. I’ve been intending to write about it for weeks but I get a pain in my chest every time I think about it. It is funny, laugh out loud hilarious at times, but don’t read it unless you are prepared to know the worst of us, the evil we accepted in this country and to which we turned a blind eye. The worst was not being shocked by it because this history, to our eternal shame, is embedded in us.’

John Boyne's A History Of Loneliness will break your heart.

Roddy Doyle. A national treasure. I think the nation as a whole loves Roddy Doyle to bits. We quote him regularly but most particularly when announcing the birth weight of new babies. We are a country populated by small turkeys. There is a funny article here on Doyle’s contribution to Ireland. I think we should have a new national holiday called Roddy Doyle Day when we all listen to the soundtrack of The Commitments and eat chips from chip vans.

But seriously, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is superb.

Colm McCann. Let The Great World Spin is centred on an account of a high-wire walk which took place between the twin towers in 1974. You just have to read it. It’s brilliant.

Paul Murray. I’ve only read one of his books but I enjoyed it very much. Skippy Dies is best described, I think, as an Irish answer to Dead Poets Society. It’s very sad but very funny. More people should read it.

Graham Norton. To be honest, I just didn’t see this coming. I read Holding mostly out of curiosity but I was captivated from the word go. The book gives an honest but gentle view of Ireland rather than the harshly critical study presented by so many Irish authors. We are our own worst critics but Norton writes about West Cork with genuine affection. I wrote a review which you can read here.

Holding by Graham Norton

Liz Nugent. Again, I read Lying in Wait with reluctance (‘domestic thriller’ is not my cup of tea) but I couldn’t escape the hype. It turns out to have been well-deserved. Liz Nugent is a rising superstar. I don’t have a photo because I borrowed this one from the library (which, I’ll have you know, involved adding my name to a LONG waiting list). I’m already anticipating her next book with bated breath. You can read my review here.

book review of Liz Nugent's thriller Lying in Wait.

Joseph O’Connor. I’m a massive fan. I’ve been reading and loving his books for my entire adult life. I wrote a bit about my idolisation of Joseph O’Connor here when I read The Thrill of it All. I’ve chosen The Star of the Sea as the one I would recommend if you were to read just one of O’Connor’s brilliant books.

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Colm Tóibín. Brooklyn. My maternal great-grandparents emigrated to America as newly-weds and settled in a handsome brownstone building somewhere in Boston. My great-grandmother, according to my Granny, loved America. In 1921, my great-grandfather was summoned home to Ireland after a series of tragic accidents made him heir to the family farm. They sailed home with their small family, my Granny ‘on the way’, and as much of their new American furniture as they could manage. Granny always said that her mother bitterly resented that call to come home until the day she died, in her forties, from a brain hemorrhage. Colm Tóibín captures that tug on Irish people, to stay or to go, to stay away or come back, that has become an intrinsic part of being Irish.

It seems an opportune moment to remind you of my previous St. Patrick’s Day posts:

Teeny Weeny Shamrock Pattern. remains my only original crochet pattern. It is, as you can imagine, ridiculously easy.The work of ten minutes or less. My Small Girl has one of these clipped in her hair today and it looks lovely.

Tricolour Toast is a tasty snack in the colours of the Irish flag.

If you have 8 minutes to spare, I recommend taking this link to TodayFM and clicking on the podcast of Ireland’s Greatest Song Lyrics. Spine-tingling stuff. ‘Where’s me jumper?,”Give it to me raw, I’ll take it home cook it myself,”You’re the chocolate at the end of my cornetto,’…ah yes, we are a nation of poets, or foodies, probably both. It all comes back to the famine. But what about this :‘You are the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams,

Here’s the one that had me doing my best solo bop about the kitchen table. Love this:

Have a great weekend.

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Soup and a good book.

I have forsworn cake for lent. It’s not that I am worried about my eventual entry through the gates of heaven (though it could be a tight squeeze) but that I am concerned with the close-fitting nature of my jeans.

I have tried re-introducing the family to salads but the family was having none of it. They complained vociferously and informed me that it’s still too chilly for cold dinners. They have a point. It is surely the season for soup.

Aztec Soup

For my March edition of Cooking the Books, I have devised the ultimate soup recipe. It was almost too easy this time. The book, Umami by Laia Jufresa, practically spelled out the recipe to me. It all came together like some sort of literary magic.

 Find the review and the recipe for Aztec soup here.

Today is World Book Day. Small Girl is very excited about finally qualifying for a free book voucher and I’m happy to have an excuse for a bookshop outing. The books look great this year. Take a look at the list on WorldBookDay.com. I won’t be able to resist the Famous Five stories and I suspect Small Girl will want the one about underpants.The gallery of World Book Day doodles by well known illustrators is also well worth a look.

I like lists. I am a maker of lists and a dedicated ticker of lists. Best of all the lists, of course, are book lists and there are some fantastic book lists out there. If the internet had been invented just for the book lists it would have been worth it. These are some of my favourites:
The Agnes Reading List. I’m blowing my own trumpet here since I compiled this list of books for teenage girls. My all-time most loved books are on this list.
The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. Rory Gilmore is one extremely well-read young (and fictional, by the way) lady. These are all the books she reads or mentions over the seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls. You can tick the books you’ve read on this VERY good list (SO satisfying, I’m at 64 of the 339 books).
The Guardian’s list of 100 best novels ever written in English is a SERIOUS list, developed over two years by Robert McCrum. It’s compiled in chronological order. I’ve read 25 which is hardly very impressive.
The 100 Best Children’s Books from Time.com is a thing of beauty. I could flick through this quite contentedly all day long.
The 25 greatest cookbooks of all time is calling to me. So much temptation. The only one of these I own is Moro. My birthday is coming up soon…hello, family…can you hear me? Hint, hint, etc.
My favourite cookbooks are listed here.
Barack Obama’s Reading List: The 79 books recommended by a very bookish president during his time in office.
J.K Rowling’s Reading List: The books which have most influenced the world’s most successful author.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in any of those lists you could take a glance through the books I’ve read since starting this blog in May 2015.
I hope you find a book you love today.

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When kids take advantage of Instagram.

Happy Pancake Tuesday.

‘Great news, Mum,’ announced Middle Daughter late last week.
‘Hmmmn?’ I might have had my head stuck in Instagram.
‘It’s Pancake Tuesday next week.’
‘Oh, great.’
‘And we’re off school so we can have pancakes All DAY LONG!’
‘OK.’ Like I said, Instagram.

The seed was sown. I got up on Tuesday morning and I made pancakes. I made pancakes ALL DAY LONG!

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A workman was painting the wall at the front of our house and, feeling proud of my copious crêpe creation, I brought him a pancake with his three O’Clock cuppa.

‘It’s not Shrove Tuesday, is it?’ he enquired with a concerned frown, as if he should have been at mass or something.
‘It is!’ I replied wondering if he would judge me for not being at mass or something.

I got straight back to the cooker to stack up more pancakes for dinner.

Three crêpes later (time having become meaningless, my day portioned into piles of pancakes) my workman returned his tea tray with a smirk.

‘Your kids are having you on, Missus.’
‘Excuse me?’ Mother Lion, ready to leap.
‘I’ve asked five different people walking by and they all said Pancake Tuesday is next week.’

So, not only had my children fooled me, maintaining straight faces all day while they debated the virtues of chocolate/cream over jam/yogurt or lemon/sugar, I was pilloried across the neighbourhood as the woman who doesn’t even know what day of the year it is.

Happy Pancake Tuesday.

I clearly need to leave the house more often.

I repaid my children by layering up the dinner pancakes with salmon, steamed broccoli, béchamel sauce and a sprinkle of cheddar (half an hour at 180ºC). They were less than pleased but Husband and I agreed that the dish was a triumph. I’ll take my wins where I find them.

pancake lasagne with salmon and broccoli

While the kids have been a-lazing (and a-scheming) in front of the TV, I have been hard at work (ahem) reading books.

The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser is a superb book, the sort that stays with you and changes the way you see the world. I wish I could make it required reading for schools, for parents, for politicians…for everyone who eats. Read my full review here.

The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser, book review

I’ve read most of Robert Harris‘s books and always look forward to a new release but Conclave was a big disappointment. I had heard Harris interviewed and loved the idea of a novel based on the election of a new pope. He writes with great style but the plot went completely awry. The full review is here.

review: Robert Harris, Conclave.

Storm Doris  is still swirling around the garden in a most menacing fashion so I’m about make a massive cup of coffee and retire to bed with Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life. It’s shockingly good.

(PS. The pantry is done but it’s been so dark, I can’t get any photos that do it justice. Next week, I promise!)

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To the one I love…

nigella Lawson, tessellating hearts.

There are days when I am convinced that Nigella Lawson was put on Earth to make me fat.

Negella Lawson, custard cream hearts.

Or happy. Let’s face it: the woman is a genius.

nigella Lawson, tessellating hearts.

Hearts tessellate, who knew?

Nigella Lawson, custard cream hearts.

Feast is one of my favourite cookbooks. It reads like a lesson in loving life, revelling in it.

Nigella Lawson, custard cream

Feast lives on my eye-level shelf for ease of access when an occasion needs to be celebrated, a success savoured, a sorrow consoled, a date marked.

Nigella Lawson Custard Cream Hearts

Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you all and, most especially, to the one I love.

Truly. Madly, deeply. To my Valentine.

The recipe for Nigella’s  Custard Cream Hearts is here.

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