Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Have you heard about the Cookbook Club? I hadn't until I saw it mentioned in The Sunday Times' Style section a few weeks back but I was instantly intrigued. If you're a foodie, you are sure to be too.
Its founder, Elaine Walsh, recently told me what it was all about:
"Everyone seems to like the ethos and quirkiness of the club," she says. "An in-house chef interprets a menu adapted from a cookbook and cooks that menu for 120 people. It's a challenge for them to interpret the recipes but then that's what we all do at home with cookbooks, isn't it? With the club, you get to eat the lovely dishes in the pictures but someone else has cooked them and you don't have to do the washing up!"
To make it even more interesting, the chef/author of the cookbook is also present on the night. They introduce the menu and I'm sure they also make the in-house chef feel nervous about doing their recipes justice!
The Cookbook Club meets on the first Monday of every month and next Monday, the chefs at Ely Bar and Brasserie will be cooking what they consider to be some of Clodagh McKenna's best dishes. Diners will have a choice of three starters, three main courses and three desserts. And most excitingly of all, I'm going to be there to sample them!
I love the story of what inspired Elaine to start this club. It's a story that combines everything that makes food so important: family, bringing people together, the conviviality of preparing food and the enjoyment there is in sharing the pleasure of a meal.
Here's how Elaine explains it:
"There are two things," she says. "I'm from a farm in West Clare but I hated it. I hated weeding, minding the cattle and cutting the turf. But I did like the preparation of our own homegrown food. My mum and grandmother used to dissect recipes they scoured from 'Woman's Way' magazines and old domestic science books to find something 'cordon bleu-y' to do with the same old mutton or turnip or we'd all die of boredom. They'd be cleavering meat and chopping vegetables, gossiping all the while. I'd be sitting eavesdropping on the stairs and I think that's why I associate food preparation and family gossip and get-togethers with cookbook narratives. I want to know the story behind the dish."
Elaine is also writing a cookbook of her own, which has its very own story. "It's about five real-life sisters who were all taught to cook by their extraordinary mother," she explains. "That book won't be released until next year but while I was studying the cookbook market, I started to think about organising big social get-togethers for groups of friends and family."
That's how the idea was born and the club has met twice so far. In September, the chefs of the Town Bar and Grill interpreted the recipes of Paul Flynn from The Tannery and in October those of Catherine Fulvio. Elaine was thrilled with both events .
"There's such conviviality and fun," she says. "Some people use it as a chance to catch up but it's also great to bring people together and to see strangers make friends. I've even had two romances come out of it. At one occasion, two cousins who hadn't seen each other in over 30 years because of a family row happened to be sitting together. It was so emotional to see them reconnect."
She is now planning to bring her cookbook club to other parts of Ireland and maybe even further afield. Future events are being organised for Cork, Belfast and Galway.
I don't know if there are any more tickets available for Monday but if you're interested, the cost is €35 and more information can be found here: http://thecookbookclub.ie/
In the meantime, I'm going along on Monday and I'll post a review to let you know how it goes.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I've found people to be so generous . When I first started, I was unsure whether my venture would be successful and so wasn't keen to shell out money on a canopy. I told an old lady who used to be in charge of the market about my reluctance to invest too much upfront and she immediately swung into action, contacting stallholders and asking if anybody had a canopy they weren't using. Organic vegetable enthusiast Deckie came up trumps and loaned me one until I felt the time had come to purchase one of my own. (Thanks Deckie!)
The customers have to be one of the things that make the market so special. It's great building up a regular customer base, learning what they like and having them come back to tell you what they think of your products. My customers often suggest new flavours I should try and what they think of cupcakes they have tasted elsewhere.
Here are some stand-out memories of interactions I had with customers this year:
The delight on the face of a charming elderly man who bought cupcakes every week when I returned to the market after a few weeks of being off sick.
There was also the lady who would visit my stall every week, spend ages looking at all the different options and then complain about my cupcakes being too expensive. She would try to haggle about the price and I would stand firm and refuse. (I give discounts if you buy lots, not just two!) Two weeks ago, she eventually relented and decided she'd spend €4 on two white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes. She returned yesterday to say how nice they were "even though they were dear". She then bought 12! And for that, I did give her a discount.
I've learned lots about baking and decorating cakes during the year too. It's amazing to look back at photos and see just how much my cakes have improved. They always tasted good but at the beginning I had a lot to learn about making them look good.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
A month or so ago, I heard about a new opening in the town. Danté's Bar - on the corner of Bridge and Dominick Street - aims to bring the gastropub culture to Tralee. So, when my boyfriend and I found ourselves hungry in the town on Monday, we decided to sample what this new place had to offer.
They came with a crisp salad, sour cream and a chilli salsa – all good accompaniments. My problem wasn’t with them but with the fishcakes themselves. There was far too much smoked haddock in them, so much in fact that it completely overshadowed any other flavours. The only flavour that could match the haddock in the dish was the chilli in the salsa.
Overall, Danté’s has a lot to commend it. The décor is good, with lots of dark wood and big windows letting in lots of light. The staff are attentive (they overheard us complaining about the loud – and I mean LOUD – hip hop music that was blaring when we walked in, completely at odds with the mid-afternoon relaxed vibe, and immediately changed to something more suitable).
And best of all, Danté’s offers unbeatable people-watching opportunities. We sat in a big window that overlooked one of Tralee’s busiest streets and speculated about everyone who passed by. Did we like her hairdo? Wasn’t that a weird-looking dog? Would you go out of the house looking like that? It was the best people-watching session I’d had in a long time.
Marks out of ten? I’d say six and a half. Not great, admittedly, but I’ll go back again. I have a feeling this place could get better.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Or option B: a walk on a gloriously sunny day?
"But I can't," I answer. "It's far too sunny outside."
Tuesday's dramatic sunset (as seen from my house)
Tuesday's sliver of moon
And introducing Jimmy, a happy dog who has been getting lots of walks these sunny days.
By the way, the weather has now turned. It's still clear and bright but it's really cold. You're bound to get a recipe out of me soon!
Monday, October 11, 2010
Diana starts with an excellent section on Sunday roasts. As well as giving advice on the basics of roasting techniques, she also includes interesting riffs on roast chicken, pork and lamb. Cherry and goat's cheese stuffed chicken, anyone?
She also devotes a section to what to do with the leftovers. I usually make a chicken, ham and mushroom pie with the remains of my roast chicken but the next time I might try Diana's chicken noodle soup or chicken and parsely risotto.
The rest of the book is divided into sections on vegetables, pulses, grains, fish, meats, soups, food that can be foraged in the wild, desserts, eggs and recipes based on using up stale bread. There are also inserts on choosing cuts of meat for flavour and economy and the different uses of grains and pulses.
All of Diana's recipes are straightforward. She chooses meat and fish that is cheap and sustainable and she cooks it in a way that maximises its flavour, combining them with ingredients that you are likely to have in your storecupboard in any case.
This is one book that won't be sitting unused on my bookshelf, seething with resentment whenever I add something new. Since I bought it on Friday, I've already cooked a Persian herb chilau (an Iranian rice dish that has a crunchy crust and lots of mint, dill and parsley) and a Middle Eastern shepherd's pie with a spiced parsnip crust.
Earmarked recipes: orange and pistachio pilaf; barley, spinach and mushroom salad; mackerel with spiced rhubarb relish; and cauliflower with fried breadcrumbs, capers and anchovies.