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.

Heartburn, Bread Pudding and October Books.

Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

Nora Ephron‘s Heartburn made me laugh and made me cook. I built my October Cooking the Books column around her recipe for bread pudding. Read more by clicking here. Trust me, this one is worth it.Nora Ephron's Heartburn. Bread Pudding.

I get a particular satisfaction out of reading books in the appropriate season and it is all the sweeter when I can match reading material to the month at hand. Am I alone?

The Hunt For Red October. Tom Clancy

I compiled a list of October books, strictly those which have October in the title. You can read that by clicking here.

I would write more for you but I’ve used up all my time on France (that sounds better if you sing it to the tune of This Charming Man); 9,000 words –I’ve made it to Midday on Saturday. I can’t stop now, I’m committed to it.

Bisous,
Lynda.

 

Books for Francophiles.

Shakespeare and Company

I bet you’re wondering how the write-up of My Weekend in Paris is going. Très lentement, I believe, is the phrase. I’m up to 5000 words and I haven’t got through dinner on Friday night. C’est fou!.

While you wait, I thought I might catch you up on what I’ve been reading. You’ll notice a francophile theme. In fact, the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed a preponderance of books set in France in recent months.

Coeurs a la Creme and Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

I compiled a list of great love stories set in France which you can find HERE. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an old favourite, and certainly bore a second reading but my most beloved on that last has to be A Tale of Two Cities. Is it the best of books or the worst of books? I’ve never found anyone who loves it as much as I do. I think it’s one of the most romantic stories ever told but then, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for a bit of unrequited love. I happened across an ancient copy, in French, in the library of Shakespeare and Company which seemed to me like it could have magical powers. It seemed to weigh more in my hands than the weight of the pages. Does that make sense?

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Back in August, I followed Hemingway to Paris in this article about A Moveable Feast, complete with a fine recipe ( if I do say so myself) for crabe mexicaine, a dish which Hem and Hadley had as a great treat after a big win at the races. If you missed that, it’s HERE.

Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep was my holiday reading. I couldn’t resist the beautiful cover. My review is HERE.

To Capture What We Cannot Keep. Beatrice Colin

I’ve spent this past week with my head stuck in the glorious, inspiring and very moving history of Shakespeare and Company– The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here’s a tip if you’re contemplating Christmas gift shopping: buy it from the Shakepeare and Company, online, and they will add the legendary shop stamp for you along with customising your gift in the sweetest ways.

Anyway, we made a pretty picture, the family glued to Bake-Off while I sat in the corner with tears streaming down my face. Ethan Hawke made me cry, not for the first time. He can write.

Shakespeare and Company

I stole an hour extra in bed this morning to begin Julia Child’s My Life in France. Already, I adore it. From page one it is warm and funny and self-effacing and fascinating and lovely.

With Julia’s voice in my head, the day has been spent cooking. I’m testing/reviewing Rory O’Connell’s new book– by golly, we are eating well!

Sicilian Cassata Cake. Rory O'Connell.

There’s a slice of Sicilian Cassata cake with my name on it waiting patiently so I will bid you adieu and a good weekend,

Lynda.

But now in September the garden has cooled…

But now in September the garden has cooled, and with it my possessiveness. The sun warms my back instead of beating on my head … The harvest has dwindled, and I have grown apart from the intense midsummer relationship that brought it on.   Robert Finch.

To be honest with you, the garden has broken loose of my feeble attempts to keep it under control. Our Irish summer lived up to its damp reputation and my mind has been occupied with indoor projects (the room!). I can never manage to keep both inside and outside of the house the way I’d like to. They seem to require two different, mutually exclusive, states of mind. Or, maybe I’m just lazy.

Small Girl’s outdoor café has been invaded by nasturtiums. I’ve suggested she call on The Doctor for a solution but she has, rather inventively I thought, taken to selling nasturtium sushi rolls. The kick you get from eating nasturtium seeds is very similar to wasabi; she could be on to something.IMG_9078 (2)

Despite the weather, we’ve had huge satisfaction from the edible end of our garden. Husband’s elephant garlic, aside from giving me a near-concussion, has provided endless amusement. Incredibly, the advice for using this is to add exactly the same number of cloves as you would of regular garlic. The flavour is sweeter and less pungent and the garlic breath, we think, less noxious. It’s hard to tell , since we are all eating it. At the other end, unfortunately, there seems to be a payback in pungent gaseous emissions. IMG_8816 (2)

The fruit trees are coming on. We had four dozen, or so, delicious apples. There were, I swear, seven perfect cherries but the birds picked us clean. Gah.

Our pear tree has us flummoxed. It’s growing at a great rate and rapidly approaching some overhead lines that we, stupidly, failed to notice when we planted it. However, it produced only a handful of pears, half of which were blown off in a storm.

This was the only one to reach the kitchen, hard as a bullet and free from juice. I don’t mind, I don’t really like pears anyway.

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Figs. I thought I didn’t like figs. That’s clearly because I’d never had a fresh fig, straight from the tree. I was flabbergasted. There must be some fragile flavour components that deteriorate quite quickly in figs because these, honestly, were fragrant and delicious. We had about thirty from our five-year-old tree. It’s a Brown Turkey. We followed advice to plant it in a big pot with a hole made in the bottom and sunk into the ground because figs like their roots to be restrained. IMG_8702

AND, we have olives, can you believe it? IMG_9108

There are still a few crops to harvest. The girls forage for raspberries, blackberries and fairy strawberries when they come in from school. We’ve planted some winter salad and beetroot. I’m sharing the kale with the butterflies. What harm?IMG_9155

There will be turnips.IMG_9207

Also, there will be oca, and plenty of it. I think it will be ready to eat around November and my fingers are crossed that we will like it because it is a pretty plant and spectacularly easy to grow. I’ve heard it described as something that looks like a potato and tastes like a lemon. Regardless, the combination of oca and rampant nasturtiums is making a neglected corner look rather lush.IMG_9211

I’m not brilliant at getting plant combinations right. I think it takes tremendous knowledge, forethought and skill to put the right plants together and keep beds looking good through the seasons. Nevertheless, I’ve had some happy accidents that, truly, make my heart skip a beat. It is these gifts of loveliness that make you believe in an all-knowing Mother Nature. The Verbena bonariensis seems to look good wherever it grows but particularly vibrant against the weeping cotoneaster.IMG_9203

When we had narry a plant, a friend gave me a plastic bag filled with Japanese anenome seedlings which she had weeded out of her own garden and promised would soon fill up mine. I have to admit that I don’t really like the plant part, the leaves are too grey and thuggish. Every year since, I have decided to dig them out and then, when the flowers have finally come, changed my mind. I think they look especially lovely coming through this crab apple tree.IMG_9170

If I could only have one tree, it would be a crab apple tree.

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I went out early this morning, to gather photos and my thoughts. I have made an effort not to look at the garden as another list of jobs to be done. It will never be perfect. It will never be finished.

It is simply the space outside my back door where I go to breathe deeply, to look for small wonders, to indulge my inner farmer,IMG_9157

to see beauty in the everyday, every day.IMG_9160

Dew-drops…IMG_9171

Pollen…IMG_9191

Sweet-peas, still…IMG_9100

Giant, ugly, brutish, prickly teasels, back-lit by the sun’s rays reflecting off apples…IMG_9179

Fallen petals caught by rhubarb leaves…IMG_8620

Tired, ragged butterfly taking one more leap onwards…IMG_8624

Wishing you a lovely weekend.
Lynda.

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A Review and a Recipe.

IMG_8572Refuge resonates with a ring of truth. Dina Nayeri reveals her own story, her own experience as an expatriate, her own insight into the life of Iranian refugees seeking shelter in Europe, and all under the wispy veil of two words, inserted in a tiny font, between the title and her name: ‘a novel.’

To read my review, and discover a really easy-peasy but very yummy recipe, CLICK HERE.

Elderflower Profusion.

It’s a bank holiday here, it’s raining in a fairly gentle manner, the teenagers are (they say) swotting for their exams which begin on Wednesday, and the small girls are sitting behind me watching Horrible Histories on a loop (it’s very funny).

I have nicked somebody’s headphones, for the sake of insulation from Terry Deary’s distracting puns, and am listening to Coldplay. Did you watch the Manchester concert last night? I was fiercely impressed by the spirit of it. It was respectful and uplifting, I thought, and appropriate. Not to even mention that thing Chris Martin does to a piano stool…

Ireland peaks in June. There’s enough sun, enough rain and enough hope of a glorious summer still to come. It’s a feeling so good you (or at least, I) want to bottle it. Which perhaps explains the frantic rush to preserve the scent of elderflowers.

But first, sad news. We had a death in the family. Kombucha with pink elder flowers. Second fermentation.

Alas, poor Scoby died. Or turned mouldy anyway and I, with a massive sigh of relief, held up a DNR notice. So, this bottle which was only marginally enhanced by the addition of pink elderflowers, was officially the last bottle of Kombucha to be fermented in this house.

Ever.

Phew.

Now, on to the good stuff.

First, a quick note on Elderflowers (Sambuca nigra). I have a young plant in the garden of a pink variety called Black Lace which has a lovely cut leaf and pink flower. I have been advised, however, that another variety called Black Beauty has a darker pink flower and makes and even darker cordial so that’s one to look out for at the garden centre. I was willing to sacrifice only a half dozen or so heads from our little plant so most of these recipes were made with bog standard wild Elderflower foraged from the river bank where we walk the dog. The rule of thumb is to take only what you can reach from the ground and leave the remainder for the bees and birds. The scent of Elderflower is potent; you don’t need much. And, it’s nice to go back for elderberries to make Autumn Pudding.

Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking is the book of the moment. It is a goldmine of recipes for anything you might forage, find or foster in your garden. If you want to sample some of the recipes, many have been included in Darina’s column in The Examiner (known locally as de paper) over the years. I’ve linked to those posts where I could find the relevant recipes.

I was pleased to discover that Elderflower Fizz (or Elderflower Champagne, same thing) counts as a fermented drink. Wahoo!

Drink up, it’s positively good for you.

It’s also dead easy to make although I have been warned that it is notoriously prone to spontaneous nocturnal explosion.

Elderflower fizz, or champagne.

The recipe says to wait two weeks but I suspect we will be popping a bottle before then. Can you see the fizz already ?! The recipe is here.Elderflower fizz.

The Fizz needs fairly rapid consumption so, for longer keeping, we made Elderflower Cordial. This was made with wild elderflowers and just one pink head added for a hint of colour.

Elderflower cordial.

With an abundance of elderflowers to hand we also made some Elderflower Medicinal Vinegar according to the recipe in Rebecca Sullivan’s Natural Home Book (reviewed, here). It’s really just apple cider vinegar with flowers in it. I have no idea what this might be good for, other the just admiring the prettiness of it. On that account I insisted on adding a few rose petals.Elderflower medicinal vinegar.

It does make me feel better, just to look at it.

Aaah, just came to Fix You. I loved that last night. Great choice.

So. Gooseberries.

I wasn’t really keeping an eye on them, it’s been wet and I wasn’t in the garden for a few days and then, wham, all of a sudden, the bushes were hanging to the ground with the weight of the berries. A proper bumper crop. I donned a protective long-sleeved denim shirt (don’t approach a gooseberry bush without one, says the voice of experience), brought a chair over, and a cup of coffee and picked and topped and tailed for ages and ages.

Picking gooseberries.

Those bushes sure don’t part easily with their fruit. I was impaled by several award-worthy thorns for my efforts.IMG_7436

Worth it though. Someone asked me recently how I know when the gooseberries are ready. According to the oracle that is Darina Allen, they are ready to cook with when you see the elderflowers blooming. I think they are ready when you can see the seeds though the skin or, in this case, when the bush can’t hold them up any longer. Or, they are probably ready when they are big enough to block out the sun.

Gooseberry big enough to block out the sun.

I only picked from the first to crop of our three bushes but had something in the region of 8 lbs of fruit and more to come. Eeek.

Darina Allen. Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

My first 4lb of gooseberries went to make Elderflower Gooseberry Compote. I love faffing about with a bit of muslin. Makes me feel like I’ve wandered into the kitchen at Longbourn. The recipe is here.

Gooseberry compote.

A word of caution here: I doubled the recipe but later realised that I need not have doubled the quantity of water. The result was a compote that was definitely too watery. I strained off some of the excess syrup and put it to good use. Here’s my very complex recipe:

Just add gin.

Elderflower and gooseberry gin cocktail.

SO good.

Onwards and jamwards. The recipe for Elderflower and Gooseberry Jam is here. I think it is my favourite jam ever but I tend to have exactly that thought every time I make jam. I actually don’t eat much jam. When I treat myself to toast, I like to savour the salty butter, but this jam is incredible in place of raspberry jam in this coconut pudding.

Elderflower and gooseberry jam.

With a boost of confidence (doubtless from the cocktail), I embarked on Elderflower Fritters. Something that Darina Allen does consistently in her books is tell you that you CAN do things and make things and, since the woman simply brooks no argument, you do.

These look wildly impressive. Well, I think they do. Elderflower Fritters.

Other than having to heat a pan of oil which always makes me nervous (I don’t have, or want, a deep fat fryer), they are easy peasy to make.

The recipe is here.

One flower head per person would be an appropriate serving.

Elderflower Fritters with Gooseberry Compote and whipped cream.

I’m not going to tell you how many I ate.

We’re not far from London or Manchester. As it happens, my in-laws flew into London on Friday night. What happens there could happen here. Geographical and cultural proximity makes it all the more horrifying. The layers of immunity are, one by one, being stripped away. It gets scarier. And then you think, to be scared is to let them win. To be honest, I’m trying not to think about it.

Whatever happens, life goes on. Gooseberries ripen. Elderflowers wilt. All we can do, I think, is keep our chins up and keep living.

If you want your spine tingled, try this:

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I’m delighted to join in the celebration of all things glorious in the garden Old House in the Shires.

Oldhouseintheshires

Cooking the Books: Fish For Friday by Frank O’Connor.

Cooking the Books: this month it’s Revolutionary Cod with Cork man Frank O’Connor.

Frank O’Connor, born Michael O’Donovan in Cork in 1903, is a writer who resides close to the hearts of Irish people simply because, for very many of us, his short story ‘First Confession’ was our first brush with great literature.

A boy of seven, searching for his bearings in the pitch dark of a confessional, locates the shelf where penitent adults might rest their elbows. He imagines the shelf is for kneeling on and clambers up, telling us he was always a competent climber, from which height he must hang upside down in order to address the bemused priest behind the grille.

As a child of ten or so, I pitched off my school chair in hysterical relief that I wasn’t alone in my fear of mortal sin, or mortal embarrassment, within the shady confines of the confession box. Click to read on, please.

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Frank O’Connor. Fish For Friday and A Revolutionary Cod.