This festive holiday we decided to go with a sea food feast and sourced shell fish for a plate-de-mare French style.
We had Atlantic red prawns. (We do get confused by the US desire to call these shrimp. To us shrimp are tiny brown things served with spiced butter and called potted shrimp.) There were local Dublin Bay Prawns –Langoustine, a small Canadian lobster with a thermador type sauce, 6 oysters, crab claws, cockles and clams, rosé prawns and salmon caviar.
We had a modest bottle of French Champagne. Bread rolls I made with sun-dried tomato and another batch with black olive and rosemary. Not shown here since we were waiting for them to finish in the oven. Dips of shallots in vinegar and a creamy thermador style sauce were served.
We followed with a sherry trifle made with frozen red berries and tinned cherry. Real home made custard, whipped cream and topped with glacé cherries. The feast was a very successful change from the usual turkey dinner. The trifle will be attacked again today, Boxing day. Or Saint Stephan’s Day here in Ireland.
Food always takes center stage at Christmas in this and many other households. This year we departed from tradition by having the Turkey dinner today, Sunday the 22nd. I also took a different path when it came to preparation.
I started with a free-range turkey breast joint. This was marinated in buttermilk with thyme, garlic, star-anise and sage. It soaked in the fridge for 48 hours.
I also marinated in honey, a small cured pork belly. Stuffing was: breadcrumbs, sausage meat, apricots, apple, onion, sage whizzed mixed and put in muffin tins with a drop of maple syrup on top and a base of pancetta.
Some sausage meat was wrapped in the same pancetta to make little pigs-in-blankets also baked in the muffin tins.
Veg was: brussel sprout tops and the tiny sprouts from the top of the stalk, stir fired with ginger. Baby carrots baked with the pork belly in honey and parsnips roasted with the bird.
The turkey joint was slathered with butter whizzed with dried cranberry and chorizo and topped with bacon. The joint was wrapped in foil and refrigerated a few hours before spending and hour and half in a 180 oven. Then finished unwrapped for thirty minutes to crisp the bacon. The pork belly was cooked for an hour in the same oven and basted with honey regularly.
The roast spuds were par boiled and then crisped in the deep fryer rather than roasting. The gravy was made with chicken stock, Marsala wine and a dash of cream.
It felt odd eating the turkey dinner well before the festive day, but it was much enjoyed.
On the day we are going to the sea with a plate-de-mare. Oysters, prawns (or shrimp) of several kinds. Langoustine, lobster, crab and clams and whatever else looks good at the market in Cork city tomorrow.
Or in normal speak: Duck à l’orange. An absolute classic given a little twist.
I steamed 2 sweet potato, 2 red skinned potato called a ‘rooster’ here. I part cooked the duck with a whole orange inside.
Squeeze the juice and pulp. Chop a bit of peel from the cooked orange. Add: some fresh dill, a tablespoon of honey, an egg yolk, a teaspoon of cornflour (cornstarch). Mash with the potatoes and stuff in the duck cavity.
Another sprinkle of Chinese five spice over the skin and a few slices of orange on top.
Then back in a hot oven for another hour. Total cooking time two hours.
The orange sauce was a cup of good smooth fresh orange juice with a big dash of sherry and half a chicken stock cube (or equivalent.) Heat until thickened, taste and add sugar or salt as needed.
Scoop out the mash and serve with steamed buttered Kale.
Tear off the legs and carve the breast from the bone. Serve a few slices of fresh orange on top.
There is a reason this is a classic – it’s supremely satisfying.
This time, two dishes with a Farmed Rabbit. Starting with ‘Brilliant Blattered Bunny Burger’.
I should perhaps explain the Bunny thing. In one of my novels in the Daniel Series, the three main characters Daniel, Lauren and Bonny go to a restaurant called Le Turbe near Menton on the Cote de Azure. Daniel orders his favorite dish, Lapin aux Truffeles.
The text: Lapin aux truffles. Rabbit with truffles seems simple enough but there were depths to this dish that delighted him more than any other he had experienced in a restaurant. As he was about to read the menu, Bonny rather unkindly teased him by saying, “Why waste your time with that when you know you are having dead fluffy bunny with expensive fungus as usual? Listen DD, why not let me loose on garçon. and I will see if I can sweet talk them into letting you go into the kitchen to see their mystery. Put yourself out of your own misery. I’m getting sad listening to you cussing over the pots as you try to reproduce this brilliant buggered-bunny banquet.”
When he had finished laughing, Daniel agreed and Bonny wafted over to the chief-waiter with her charm motor in overdrive. She came back five minutes later looking very serious. After keeping them waiting while she finished her aperitif she said, “OK, that was like pulling teeth, but you are on. I have to come with you to translate and let the chefs ogle my glories and I had to swear ten oaths to the great Gallic God Larouse that you are not in the business and bent on robbing their famed specialty.”
“Praise be to the sainted Larouse, your French and the glories that are your titties, Bonny-Ann. I shall give praise and anoint the glories in humble and craven thanks later at a sanctified place of worship.”
Lauren nearly choked on her
amuse-buche laughing at this exchange. Soon they were all having trouble
keeping their laughter to socially tolerable levels as the giggle infection
As they drove down to Menton after,
Bonny played back the Dictaphone Lauren had given her to record recipe notes
and Daniel sighed and hummed his satisfaction, but typically thorough in his
concern for gastronomic perfection said, “Where the hell am I going to get my
hands on carefully farmed rabbit back home? Maybe I’ll get a few and a hutch.”
“Like hell you will. The children
would adopt them and never speak to you again when you blatter their bunnies to
death and they’d turn veggie on the spot.”
My daughter is
vegan and would be appalled at this recipe, but I am an unreconstructed carnivore
and love rabbit. This uses French farmed bunny, just like in the novel. I made
two dishes with it so extracted maximum value from its sacrifice.
The meat from legs and belly was minced with two pork sausage, a handful of dried apricots, fresh papaya, some fresh breadcrumbs, shallots, a few mushrooms, garlic and fresh sage. This mixture made the patties. I sealed them in pan first, then wrapped them in American style maple bacon and finished in the oven. Served with kale, piped mashed potato and topped with a sauce made with papaya and orange juice.
It was delicious,
even if had no truffles!
Next day the
bones and bits went into a stockpot to make the essential thing for a Spanish mountain
paella – good stock.
This paella uses the saddle of the rabbit, and frozen escargot in parsley and garlic butter. In the Serria Nevada mountain region of Catalan Spain, they use these rather than the usual chicken and seafood. I’ve had it there, but think my version is better.
I cooked it on the little stove and added some scallops and shrimps to the fried rabbit and picked snails. A good splash of sherry was added to the stock. Veg was mushrooms, carrots, peas, broad beans. The pan was left on the heat until the paella rice had formed a good crust on the bottom. It was served with a few glasses of sherry.
Almost all my novels feature good food and cooking somewhere. The reason is simple – food and cooking is my third passion. Oh, the first two are beautiful women, my beloved B in particular, writing is second, third cooking (And eating.) The writing means I have the time to devote to imaginative and original cooking. Sometimes that will involve exotic or expensive ingredients but more often than not, it will be something simple and thrifty. The one ingredient I can afford to be generous with is time.
I’ve decided to share some of these ideas with the blogisphere. So I will do a series on various dishes I cook over the next week or two. You will not find exact recipes – I don’t work like that, but all will be easy to do if you can spare some of that precious commodity – time.
Irish sea farmed Atlantic Salmon is easy and inexpensive to buy here and in
particular when bought whole. The salmon I used came from the fish counter of
our local Dunnes Store and cost under thirteen euros.
My fish kettle is not often used, but it has been worth dragging around for years because when you need a kettle — you need a kettle. One can try roasting pans and faff about with strips of foil to lift the cooked fish but… just get a kettle.
So Thai style salmon tart is what you see here. It was excellent and would feed six.
I started poaching
the whole fish with various veg, bay leaf and white wine. As you can see, I
make use of our small stove for more than heating the house. It’s great for
simmering too. The kettle was on there less than thirty minutes and then taken
off and left to cool.
The fish was then
peeled and the flesh taken off in large pieces. All the small bits and bobs
were put with a tomato, a little ginger, a dash of Mirin a slice of white bread,
mayo, tomato ketchup, Tabasco and whizzed into a moose. We had some of that on Swedish
crisp bread as a starter.
Next day I made a thick white sauce with butter flour and coconut cream. To this I added a handful of prawns/shrimps, the rest of the salmon moose, grated ginger, chopped red chilies, a handful of chopped coriander/cilantro a dash of Thai fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.
I blind baked
shop-bought short-crust pasty, in a spring-form cake tin, coating the inside of
the pastry with beaten egg twice to seal it during cooking.
When it was cool I began to layer it. Salmon, thin sliced onion, sauce, salmon, thin sliced cucumber. and strips of pickled ginger. Final layer was slice ripe Papaya and strips of pickled ginger. (Fruit and Salmon are great together.) Top with the thick sauce. A final brush of the top with the left-over egg and into a moderate oven, 170 for thirty-five minutes.
Best served cool, room temperature. Good with salad but we had tinned mini peas and carrots.
It was fab! We
couldn’t finish it – as often the case with my cooking – over generous.
Next time, two dishes with a Farmed Rabbit. Starting with my ‘Brilliant Blatered Bunny Burger’.
No apology for the long break between blog posts. It was deliberate policy to retreat from all social media activity. We have been distracted by the enforced need to find a new home or nest as we call it. Our long-term lease on our place at Killoscully was not renewed. It was understandable, the landlords’ daughter needed the house, but it was a blow for us. We were settled and happy there. The idea of having to move was unappealing to say the least. No it was horrific!
We have gathered a lot of stuff over the years, much of it was resistant to the idea of downsizing. (I simply can’t part with books or art.) We toyed with and explored the idea of buying an old cottage to do up. That proved a painful search with our limited budget. Everywhere we found was either much too small or had issues that would have swallowed vast amounts of time and money – so rental it had to be. The rental market here in Ireland is under great strain and prices have skyrocketed. We needed to stay within reasonable traveling distance of beloved B’s place of work at the University of Limerick. Long searches on-line were discouraging, but eventually we found the right place at the right price. The cottage is much smaller than our previous place so we had to be ruthless and dispose of a lot of stuff, even so, it was and is a very tight fit. I spent all of October shifting what remained by turning the camper Rocinante from old charger to a packhorse pulling a trailer.
The last week was a trial when I ripped a muscle in my calf and could no longer lift or even walk. I spent a painful time watching beloved B toil over the last weeks work. We rented a man with a wee lad with a van to move the beds and big sofa right at the end. At the beginning of November we were in, mostly sorted, and utterly knackered.
B’s birthday celebration had had to be postponed for a week as it fell on the day after the final move. We planned a few days escape to a hotel and spa to recover. Our new favorite restaurant in Kenmare Kerry, the Limetree was booked for the birthday dinner. Fab scallops, followed by Hake for B and Salmon for me. We went to the ever lovely Glengarrif where I bought a walking stick to help me hobble to the Blue Pool to take in the beauty. We drove back over the spectacular Healy Pass and spent an hour in the spa pool, B swimming, and me submerged in the Jacuzzi being massaged by hot water to ease the gympoid symptoms.
have set up a new work station and have now gotten back into writing. My latest
is a novel following my FBB heroine Rachel, whom I’d tried to kill off in the
last novella of the series. That was met with howls of protest by a loyal fan
base – so she had to be resurrected. Thus the title: ‘Rachel’s Resurrection’.
I’m glad I left her end ambiguous so this resurrection was possible. I am enjoying writing the new adventure which sees her seeking revenge for the… oops – nearly a spoiler there. Anyhoo she’s back as feisty and dangerous as ever, but will have a total change of path and try to renounce her life as a spook. I expect to publish it around February 2020.
I found this and thought it might be of interest to readers. It’s an older film that was never completed but it does explain why this location was used in so many of my novels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjexpA59O1k
Many years after I began independent publishing I am still asked (and sometimes ask myself) why I did not go the more accepted traditional route. The reasons are various but the often received response from publishers and agents: “Not mainstream enough.” “Perhaps tone it down and avoid the controversial subjects” “Great story and wonderfully drawn characters but just too unconventional.” I got all these responses in my first years trying to go down the traditional route. It was dispiriting and hard to hear. Everyone was telling me I was not writing to an accepted formula. Yes, yes, that’s the point of my writing – it’s not formulaic, it’s not conventional. It is original, challenging, thrilling, truthful, and character driven. I was not prepared to try to become a clone for the sake of a publishing deal. So… I learned to do it myself. I was an early adopter of Indi publishing and quickly established that proper editing, good covers and interior formatting, as good as or better than mainstream, was what I needed to achieve. I believe I did that. I am sure any of my twenty plus novels will stand close critical scrutiny. The freedom I now have is invigorating. I can let my imagination run free unconstrained by the gatekeepers rules and constraints. I am free to re-edit and re-publish all my work. It improves over time and it is always available, unlike trad books that have a very short active life. The one downside to Indi, is the difficulty of getting noticed among the floods of mediocre drivel crowding the Amazon lists. I tried all the various methods advised by so called Indi experts – none are effective except as a means to sell their work and services. Reader loyalty and recommendations is the only method that works; but one has to be patient. I’ve never paid for reviews or cheated in any way. My sales are modest, but steady and ever growing, as readers discover my work and keep coming back for more. When I get a genuine review that is praiseworthy I am delighted and gratified because I know that reader will tell others and so sales keep coming. I will never earn much, but I write because I have to. It is my creative life and it is immensely rewarding. Discovery by a new reader is wonderful and getting noticed by a film maker would be an unlikely delight. Ultimately, I write and Indi publish because I have to – it has been creative liberation. To all who are regular readers I say thank you and keep talking!
Always Leoti, is the title of my next novel. The launch will be next month and will include a filmed reading. This is a departure for me, being slightly experimental. It is fourteen chapters that read like a series of short stories each using the same two protagonists, Leoti and Aaron, but set in different historical time periods. That sounds odd, but test readers have enjoyed the experience and I have had a lot of pleasure researching the history and settings.
I had published a novella called Leoti, but that has now been withdrawn to make way for the full novel.