Fermentalist with a fetish for fatty foods. Don't listen to those looneys telling you that fat is bad for you. Love your gut, eat real food. Writer at Irish Examiners on Saturdays and Irish Independent and Sunday Times, Food and Wine Mag and Tourism Ireland
Sometimes things seem like they are never going to happen, but they do and when they do the timing is just right. I had booked my place at the Firehouse bread school after a good report from a friend who went there to indulge in a day of yeast and flour smothered fun. As life and weather would have it, I had to cancel the trip many times, the journey to the wilds of West Cork seemed madness in the depths of winter, yet I now know, sure its only down the road. After a day working in what Cork people refer to as the 'real' capital, I got lost on the roundabouts and motorways out of the city, for the last time!!! I was sure I'd missed the last ferry so resigned myself to stay overnight in nearby cute Skibereen when Patricia called me from the school to say there were extra ferries on for the day and I just might make it. So I put pedal to the metal and drove like a maniac, (within all legal speed limits of course) missing all the stunning scenery en route on the gorgeous sunny evening that was our summer. It was a jump and roll situation when I parked the car and grabbed my bag. Happy and very full-looking people were disembarking from the ferry, laden with bags and boxes of bread and baked treats. That would be me tomorrow, I thought, drooling. I had the tiny ferry boat to myself as we made the short crossing, I felt overwhelmingly happy as I made it, by the skin of my bakers teeth. After meeting the lovely Patricia and the other baking students I found a sweet place to swim and rewarded myself ith the ultimate treat, a big long soak in the open water, one my favourite things to do for free.
After a nice feed and a few glasses of wine I scuttled off to bed and slept like a hamster with the rain belting off the window, the weather had changed, perfect timing for a day to be spent indoors baking. After breakfast the other guests arrived and the famous Patrick Ryan joined us over coffee and white chocolate chip and apricot cookies. We got stuck in to the days baking with the one thing I wanted to to do more than anything, a delicious sourdough. Sourdough seems to have become the sex of bread, everybodys talking about it but really how many people are any good at it? Patrick talked us through all the steps and we enjoyed a vigorous workout kneading and pounding away on the huge wooden tables. If you want to be in good shape, it's simple, dump the gym membership and knead bread by hand, it gives you fantastic muscles and strength plus is great for your waist.
From kneading the sourdough it was time for me to make baguettes, we had a lucky dip for the next task and I was happy to get a somewhat challenging one. I have made baguettes at home but never with a sourdough starter, and I made them tonight with Patricks instructions, and they worked a treat. The others made a Millers Loaf, Potato and Rosemary flowerpot bread which was delicious, a foccacia and a tear and share were also on the list. There was plenty of banter and fun, lots of washing up to do as the men stood idly by, chatting about wood fired ovens, an important part of the reason we were all there. The heat from the fire, when it has died down, is used to bake the bread, there is simply no comparsion in flavour and the texture of the crust. I want one, I'm sure I can squeeze it into my tiny kitchen!
We were treated to endless nibbles and snacks before we kept going with sweet breads; maple swirtls, peanut and chcolate soda scones, bagels and then onto the cakes, carrot, Guinness and Chocolate....it goes on and on. Patrick prepared some juciy salads for us and laid the table in a style to make Henry 8th envious, cheese and wine and all our days baking laid out beautifuly on a banquetting table, and we were to eat it all!!!! We broke baguettes and cooed over cobbs, the sourdoughs were the hold grails, marked for our ourselves and brought home, like babies by each one of us. We divvied up the stash like hoarding dwarves and somehow managed to make off with as much bread and cake as our legs could carry. Patrick puts tons of work into his bakery and the courses, and them was heading off to Delgany to the new bakery he runs with his co-founding partner. The experience is well worth the visit, is excellent value and lots of fun. Stay overnight for at least one night if you can, two is better as then you can explore the island too. I've been eating that sourdough all week and have since made potato bread too, thanks for the inspiration!
Not as dodgy as it sounds... hot on the chickens feet of our tremendously successful and jam-packed GAPS cooking demo last night I'm blogging this recipe. We made chicken stock, one of the backbone (sorry, can't help the puns, they just keep flying out of me) recipes of the GAPS diet. Naturally the essence of a good stock is really good, flavourful bones to go in the pot. When restaurants make their stocks they always roast the carcasses in the oven to get them nice and brown, so this stock is based on that, it's not a new idea, been around forever. This way of roasting a chicken gives you an instant gravy so you need no magic wand in the kitchen to make a really tasty 'jus' for your plate.
Of course the best chicken makes the best food so buy what you can afford, free-range at the least, Carlow Chickens are particularly good and what it costs in money is more than made up for in size and flavour.
Schtick your chicken, breast side down, on a decent sized roasting tray and surround it with a few (2-3) peeled and quartered onions, carrots and celery sticks as well as 4-5 peeled garlic cloves. If you have some duck fat rub it on the bird, if not, some good sea salt will do nicely. Cover the tray loosly with large tin foil, sealing it around the edges but not tight on the top so it doesn't stick to the skin. Roast this at 180degreesC for 1 hour 30 minutes. Take it out of the oven and leave it sit for a few minutes, remove the foil and pour off as much of the juices as you can into a small pot. This is your fully-flavoured gravy, taste it and see!
Return the chicken to the oven for a further 20-30 minutes until the skin is nice and golden and crispy. Turn the oven off and leave it sit for 15 minutes or so before carving. You can spoon the fat off the top of the gravy if you don't like an oily sauce. There isn't a huge volume of gravy but the flavour is so intense you don't really need a lot.
For your Stock
When you've cleaned the bones from the beast, clear off any veggies from the tray and put the tray on top of the hob, pour in some water and use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits from the tray until you have as much as you will get. A Jamaican women who taught me how to cook in Germany used to call the sticky tray bits the 'bon bon', which really means the sweets, or the best bits. When this is bubbling, pour it into a large pot, about 5 litres. Add in the remaining bones from the roast and some freshly peeled onions, carrots and celery (2 of each), a bay leaf and a few peppercorns as well as a teaspoon or so of sea salt. I've been putting a piece of kombu kelp in the pot recently as its said to draw more goodnes out and the stock always tastes great. Top up the water in the pot to nearly full and put it on to a boil. When it's boiling turn the heat doen to a simmer and leave it for 2-3 hours. You can drink this as a broth, it's incredibly soothing in cold, bad weather, not to mention a myriad of health benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. Strain the stock and discard the bones and veggie bits or let the cat and birds have thier share. Stock freezes well and is virtually free to make!!! What's not to love, and it makes cleaning the roasting tin very easy too x