My Trip Home

So I’m just back from my first real trip home since I moved away in January. It was a hell of a few weeks, rounded out very nicely at the end with a little referendum you may have heard of.

The big highlight for me was making my (now annual) pilgrimage to east Cork for the Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine. An incredible three days of talks and demos from a huge array of people from all walks of the culinary life. From the First Lady of Slow Food, Alice Waters to London Restauranteur Mark Hix, to New York Chef April Bloomfield. It really is an amazing weekend.

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Last year was a huge eye opener for me. I had only recently begun working a lot more on the new blog and pushing myself with the photography end of things aswel. Going down to Ballymaloe gave me a huge push to pull the finger out and work harder and harder at it. This year however was different. I learned a lot more about style and audience and what kind of cook I want to be.

After coming back up to Dublin for another few days I got to spend some time horse-riding with my sister. One of my secret terrors but thankfully she mercifully gave me the littlest pony she could find so I didn’t feel too petrified.

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Afterwards we headed up into the Wicklow mountains a little to Powerscourt Waterfall for a bit of an afternoon Barbeque. I made up a quick marinade for some chicken and a couscous salad. It was a delicious little dish, perfectly framed by the epic backdrop of the falls behind us.

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But I am back in London now and far away from that idyllic Irish countryside. I’m not sad though. I really am loving my new life in this awesome city. It is tough being away from home but I do also consider this home now. I have two homes. The place I am from and the place where I live. And that is a very cool thing indeed.

Borough Market – My Happiest Place on Earth

This weeks post isn’t a recipe so much as it is a day in the life kind of thing. I am still fairly new to this city. Still finding my way around and figuring out my favourite places to go and things to see. One of the first things I fell in love with and one of the first things I started doing regularly is going to Borough Market. This is one of those places that is pretty high on the list of anyone interested in food or anything for that matter.

It is an incredible sight to behold and the atmosphere there on a sunny afternoon is immense. Here are just a few of the photos I have collected over that last month or two of the stalls and some of the surrounding area. I hope it gives you some send of the grandeur, elegance and character of this culinary mecca.

Clams and New Potatoes in a Spring Bacon Broth

I have been thinking a lot recently about how much I seem to love the idea of Comfort Food and just what exactly that means.

I work a lot. Probably a lot more than I should but what can you do? I love my job. I spend my day cooking high quality food for hundreds of people. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is to start cooking yet another huge dish. I want to sit down, maybe have a beer, eat some delicious food and Netflix myself to sleep.

Most of these dishes seem to manifest themselves as some kind of meat in sauce on rice/noodles/pasta and almost always served in a large soup bowl.

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Man I really love bowls…

Comfort food for me is easy to make, easy to eat and incredibly moreish. That being said, sometimes I have a little extra time and a little extra ambition and that is where a dish like this comes in. I had a hankering for something a bit more luxurious and when I saw these incredible clams in Borough Market I knew they were just what I wanted.

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500g Clams
200g Smoked Bacon
1 Fennel
100g Wild Garlic Leaves
2 Spring Onions
1 White Onion
1 Small Bunch of Parsley
200g Baby New Potatoes
300ml Ginger Beer
100g Frozen Peas

-We are going to start off by making up the bacon broth/stock. First slice up the smoky bacon.
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-Place that into a cold pan with a little sunflower oil. Turn onto a low heat and cook for five to ten minutes (to render the fat) or until the bacon starts to darken. Then turn the heat up high for another minute or so until crispy.
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-The bacon will have rendered all of it’s fat into the oil so you want to keep that. Carefully scoop out the crispy bacon and leave to drain on a piece of greaseproof paper.
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-Remove the pan from the heat while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
-Place the clams into a small pan of cold water. This will help them purge any grit and sand they may have inside them. Leave them to the side for about fifteen minutes.
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-Take the fennel and break it down into three pieces, the herbs, the stalks and the bulb. You can keep the bulb for another recipe, we aren’t going to use it here.
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-Chop the spring onions in half, the roots and the tip.
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-Quarter the onion, there’s no need to peel it.
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-Take the leaves from the parsley stalks, keep the stalks for the sauce because judging by this picture parsley seems to be grown by Goddamn ENTS or something here.
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-Chop the Garlic leaves away from the stalks.
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-Give the baby potatoes a good clean and scrub away any rough skin.
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-Bring up the heat on the pan with the bacon fat and then add in the Fennel stalks, the Spring Onion roots, the Onion quarters, the Parsley stalks and the Wild Garlic stalks. I also had the rind from a block of parmesan around and decided to throw that in, totally optional though. It adds another layer of rich, creaminess to the stock.
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-Fry these in the bacon fat on a medium to high heat for five minutes or until they just start to colour.
-Add in the ginger beer and about one litre of boiling water.
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-Allow the broth to simmer for about forty minutes. Scoop off any scum that forms on the surface every few minutes.
-When the broth is ready, strain it over a bowl to remove all of the roots etc. Add the liquid back into the pan.
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-Finely chop the Parsley leaves, Wild Garlic leaves, Spring Onion tips and the Fennel Herbs.
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-Add the potatoes into the broth and bring it up the boil. Cook for five to ten minutes or until the potatoes are just under done. A knife should face a little resistance when inserted into one.
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-Drain the clams and add them into the boiling broth with the potatoes.
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-After two minutes add in the frozen peas and bring them up to the boil again for two minutes.
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-The last thing is to add the herbs, I like my broth quite herby so I added in a lot but this is up to your own personal taste. Allow them to wilt into the broth as you mix it for thirty seconds.
-To serve it up, get a large soup bowl and a slotted spoon. Scoop the potatoes and clams into the bowl. Then using a ladle, spoon over some of the broth. Be careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan too much as there will still be some grit and silt from the clams.
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-Top with some remaining herbs and the crispy bacon and you are ready to eat.
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The Cup of Coffee

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My head hangs close to rim of the disposable cup. The steam is bitter. The heat both blessing and curse. I am pouring what is left of my will into this coffee and in turn it is holding me up for one more day. That’s all I need, eight more little hours. Then rest.

I have been working for nine straight days. Somewhere north of one hundred hours and what sleep I steal between those is haunted by calls for two sirloins on eighty four, firing, one eight ounce mid rare, two rumps medium, to follow three Rib eye’s all rare, Lets go!

I can feel every minute of those hours in every inch of my body. My knees creek like a man four times my senior. My arms dangle from my shoulders like scarves from a hook. Someone has poured concrete into my fingers. The skin flakes and peels from every shattered nails edge. Blisters line my forearms.

A lot of people say that while you are young you feel invincible but I can tell you now that my body has never felt more mortal than sitting at a faux antique bar in Costa. The coffee remains the only thing holding me aloft.

Through the shop window I can see normal people living normal people lives. Suits, briefcases, phonecalls, taxis, newspapers. What did I do to be shunned from that normal life? Nothing I guess. I remember that this is what I want to be doing. It seems insane at this moment in time but it is. This is where I belong. If it’s not, then at the very least, at this stage, in the words of Joseph Conrad; I must be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.

After my shift today I am free for an evening and a day before I head back into the smoky, shining steel, gun deck of a kitchen where I earn my humble keep. Forty consecutive hours of not being shouted at or burning myself. It might only be a short about of time but I feel inside like I am about to take three month cruise around the Bahamas. It is a welcome reprieve from this job that seems to demand so much and offer so little.

That thought takes a little of the pressure off the coffee as my sole source of support and I stand to walk the three minutes down the road and into the restaurant. The sun is low and seems intent on tearing a hole in my retinas. It’s going to be a warm day. A fresh wave of envy hits me as I think again about the normal people getting to enjoy normal people things, like a sunny day and fresh air and bones that don’t feel like swizzle sticks.

The coffee diminishes. The day passes. I’m about to leave. I make a smart ass comment to the chef. The guys on the grill laugh. Chef tells me to fuck off home and get some sleep. I smile and feel better than I have in days. I’m beaming as I change back into my civvies and head to catch a tube home. Either out of sleep deprived deliriousness or a genuine sense of feeling at home there, I start to look forward to going back into the kitchen in a few days time. I’m still smiling as my eyes grow heavy and sleep takes me there on a rush hour Piccadilly Line tube. I miss my stop but it was the soundest sleep I had had in weeks.

Oyako Don – Japanese Comfort Food.

So this is part three of what I have been casually referring to as my “Back in the Saddle Series” where I try to push myself back into the habit of writing, and more importantly, cooking, again.

The previous two recipes, the Asian Pickle Salad and the Grilled Onions I did as sides to this next dish I have here. This is one I have taken pretty closely from David Chang’s Momofuku book which is easily one of the best cookbooks I have ever read. It’s called Oyako Don which is Japanese for Mother and Child. Basically it’s a chicken and rice dish served with a soft boiled egg. Perfect for when you are feeling a low and need a giant culinary hug in a bowl.

This might seem like a bit of a complicated recipe but once you get started it will all fall into place pretty quickly. Also, because so much of it can be done in advance it’s a great one to whip out for large groups of people. This recipe however, is enough for two.

Two Whole Chicken Legs
2 Eggs
1 Lime
2 Cloves of Garlic
1 Tbsp. Mirin
1 Tsp Soy Sauce
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
200g Basmati Rice
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-Start by cutting the chicken legs in half, into thighs and drumsticks.
-Place them in a pot of cold water.
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-Place the pot onto a medium to high heat and bring them up to the boil.
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-Once they are boiling add in the two eggs and set a timer for seven minutes.
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-While the chicken and eggs are cooking, you can make up the marinade for the chicken. Zest the lime into a mixing bowl.
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-Finely dice up the garlic and add in the juice of the lime, the mirin, Soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix the marinade together well.
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-Take the eggs out of the water when your timer goes off and pop them into a bowl of cold, running water.
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-Pop the hot chicken into the marinade. Keep moving it around as you set up the next step.
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-For the final touches, you just need to cook the basmati rice according to the packet instructions and get a heavy based pan onto a high heat.
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-When the pan is hot, add the chicken and all of the marinade in. As the marinade reduces, start spooning it over the chicken as you turn it. This will glaze them perfectly as the skin chars.
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-Now all that is left to do is serve up a nice steaming bowl of the rice, topped off with a few pieces of chicken, an egg, some onions and a little of the pickle salad. It’s a winner every time.
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Getting Emotional About Onions

I am a huge believer in the emotional power food has over people. I have no idea why that is but it’s something I would love to learn more about, if anyone knows anything more about it I would be thrilled to hear it!

Grilled onions are one of my favourite things to cook, when I have no idea what to cook. There is a certain distracting, almost meditative quality to having a huge bunch of onions to peel and slice. (I’ll tell you, as a trainee cook, that is a really good quality to have). Then the slow and diligent turn of the onions as the gradually sweeten and caramelise and reduce in their own liquor. It just makes me feel good inside and I can’t really explain it.

You probably all have something weird you do when you aren’t feeling great and just want a simple distraction for an hour so you don’t have to do that whole “thinking about things” nonsense the world seems so caught up with these days. For me, it’s grilled onions.

So when it came time for my first big home cooking day in my new home, there was really only one choice wasn’t there?

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-This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a cooking principal. Hence; no ingredient list. It’s just onions. I recommend at least six to eight medium onions to get the best result. That’s it. A little sunflower oil and a pinch of salt but other than that, it’s just the onions.
-I’m going to take your through a pretty foolproof way to get world class onions but if you think at any point it’s a bit too complicated, just know you can prepare them pretty much whatever you want and they will probably still turn out damn good.
-Start by peeling the onions, but keep the root on for the moment. Take off the stem end then run a shallow cut down the side of the onion through the outer layer. The whole skin should come off easily enough.
-Next cut the onions in half from root to tip, they should all stay together pretty well.
-Lay half of an onion flat on your chopping board. Holding the onion in one hand and the knife securely in the other, slice off the root at a slight angle to get all of it.
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-Rotate the onion by 90 degrees, still on the chopping board, then start slicing, as finely as you can, from the top of the onion to the bottom.
-You should end up with Pretty evenly sliced sickle moons of onions. Perfect for getting a really consistent finished product.
-Repeat this with the rest of the onions until you find yourself with a giant pile of onions you have conquered.
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-Next get a large, heavy bottomed saucepan with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil onto a high heat. RFH as my uncle would say, Really Fucking Hot.
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-Add in the onions, all at once and leave them there. They will sizzle and spurt and sound like they are burning but just leave them to it for ten minutes.
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-After ten minutes start to turn them. Make sure all the ones at the bottom get rotated to the top and vice versa.
Now it’s kind of up to you. For the first while you are going to keep the heat high and move the onions ever five minutes or so. The weight of the onions pressing down on each other and the hot oil is going to darken them up and cook out a lot of moisture pretty quickly.
-Once they start to shrink considerably, reduce the heat and keep turning them every few minutes.
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-After about forty five to fifty minutes you should be left with a seemingly tiny quantity of dark, sweet, jammy onions just covering the bottom of your pan.
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-The only thing left to do now is season them up and you are ready to eat.

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These keep really well in the fridge for about a week to be used with a sandwich or a steak or noodles or a casserole or whatever you have to hand. Never doubt the power of the Grilled Onion.

Moving away from home and an Asian Pickle Salad

So it has been a crazy few months since I last updated this blog. I left my job in Dublin, I moved to London and I have started working in an incredible Barbecue focused place here. This experience has been something that I was not nearly as ready for as I thought I was.

Moving away from your home, your family, your friends, your pets, the streets you walk every day, the coffee shops you frequent, the bars you imbibe in, the busses and trains you ride, it is a scary thing to do. You are left, as if suspended in mid-air, with not just the rug pulled out from under you, but the floorboards torn up and the entire building seemingly razed to the ground beneath your feet.

The first couple of weeks were probably the strangest, not necessarily the hardest but definitely odd. I had rented a room for the two weeks after I arrived as a way to get to know the area and have a place to search for more long term arrangements from. I ended up staying there three weeks because, as I probably don’t need to tell you, the housing market in London is bat-shit-cray.

Several times I would be on the way to meet with an estate agent only to get a curt message saying the apartment was already let, or they didn’t accept references from “overseas.” “It’s Ireland mate, it’s like a twenty minute walk from here.” That in combination with the rent prices I was looking at was a pretty daunting thing to overcome. But in the end, I found a nice little place in the East End and moved in.

The strangest feeling was that when I was leaving the first place I stayed, my mind seemed to think I had been on holiday or something. Like now that I had been away for a few weeks and was packing up my stuff I was going back to Dublin to see my life again. But to then find myself in another new apartment and new area was really tough.

The first day I had off from work after moving in, I did the only thing I know how to do when I don’t know what to do, I made a home cooked meal.

1 Red Chilli
1 Lime
2 Spring Onions
1 Bunch of Coriander
1 Tbsp Mirin
1 Tsp Sesame Oil
1 Tsp Soy Sauce
1 Tsp Rice Wine Vinegar (White Wine Vinegar will do or any white vinegar in a pinch)
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-First off you want to make up the pickle dressing for the salad. In a bowl, mix together the Mirin, Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar and the Juice of the lime.
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-Mix it well and then taste it. It should be a little sharp from the vinegar but if it is offensively strong, tone it down by adding in a little sugar and a little more Mirin.
-Next, half and deseed your chilli.
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-As finely as you can, slice up each of the halves. I like to do it length-ways (purely for aesthetic reasons) but you can do it whatever way you like. Just make sure the pieces are quite fine so the pickle easily.
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-Add the chilli into the pickle dressing.
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-Peel the spring onions of any nasty outer leaves and chop them into manageable pieces.
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-Slice them in half, length-ways and then slice them again as finely as you can. The thinner they are the better they will pickle and the better they will look on the plate.
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-Add these into the dressing aswel.
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-Pick the leaves, gently so as not to bruise them, of the coriander from the stalks.
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-Chop the stalks into similarly sized pieces to the spring onion and chilli and add them into the dress with everything else.
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-The salad can stay like this for a few days and then as soon as you are ready to serve, add in the coriander leaves.
-Pluck the salad out of the dressing and allow it to drain for a moment on a piece of kitchen paper. Then it’s ready to be placed atop anything you fancy.
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