When we were in college, the Brother’s Housemate came from a catering household. His mother used to make hundreds of superb Christmas cakes and puddings each year, cook for parties and events and, most importantly to us, make the best Caramel Squares known to students.Living on an unbroken biscuit diet of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers – our habitual study food (oh, the excitement when a white chocolate variety came on the market) – these were manna from heaven. Every time the Brother’s Housemate was able to sneak or was given (we never knew, never asked) a box of them, we would descend on his house like a plague of biscuit-seeking locusts.
When we had the Mallow Farmers’ Market taking place outside Urru last summer, I never missed the chance to pick up a pack of Old Millbank Smokehouse hot smoked trout from Geraldine Bass. Saturday mornings in work were always busy so I had to watch for a gap between customers to make a dive out of the shop before all the good stuff was gone. Geraldine would also have her smoked salmon and, for a real treat, some very fine smoked salmon pâté but I always made a beeline for the trout, a much underrated ingredient and one that I’d pick any day over smoked salmon.
I’ve always liked to bake. As soon as I was old enough to co-ordinate reading recipes and using a wooden spoon, I was anxious for any cake-making excuse – and most of them involved copious amounts of chocolate. Over the years there have been many good chocolate cakes, from my early attempts using chocolate-flavoured cake covering and marg to (when I started paying for my own shopping!) butter and 70% dark chocolate. This cake, however, although it may not look like much, stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Here’s a desert that’s perfect eaten outside in the late evening sunshine – or to cheer up a rainy day. There’s no real need for quantities as the amounts depend on how many people you are trying to make the strawberries stretch between, how big the glasses are and how greedy your audience!Chop up the fruit before dinner and toss with the sugar so that the juices start to run then assemble the sundaes just before eating so that the biscuits don’t get soggy. With each mouthful of sweet fruit, fragrant juice, cool yoghurt and almond crunch you could be almost forgiven for thinking that it’s summertime.
Driving to Galley Head Lighthouse is a bit like a magical mystery tour. Although easy to see from a variety of locations along the West Cork coast, the lighthouse – like an ever-receeding mirage – seems to disappear from sight the closer you get. Eventually, however, after driving constantly south of Clonakilty, past numerous private property signs and along a low-lying road, protected on either side by stone walls, you get to where you can drive no further. The lighthouse stands at the tip of a peninsula, surrounded by the sea, and the lighthouse keeper’s house that we were staying in is part of a two-sided structure that shelters the parking area at the front from the northern and western winds.
I have loved Pancake Tuesday ever since I was a child, standing on a chair so I could reach the cooker to make stacks and stacks of pancakes. It sometimes took a long time before the family was satiated! Since those crêpe-making days, the thinner the better, I’ve become a fan of fluffy American pancakes and I’ve yet to decide which way the pancake batter is going to go this evening. Maybe both – I’ve always loved two course pancake suppers and Ricotta and Spinach Pancake Bake is my default savoury option.
I was never a vegetable fan as a child. Potatoes? Well, they were a totally foreign land to me – as were, to my poor mother’s despair – carrots, cabbage, peas, parsnips and turnips. I did (sometimes) like Cauliflower Cheese, though. Broccoli was just making inroads into rural Ireland but as it was cooked like all the other vegetables, ie boiled to within an inch of its life to be served limp and tasteless, I didn’t bother with it. The first time I had carrots that arrived at the table with some texture was a revelation and, gradually, I started to explore the mysteries of the vegetable world.