Like any ‘real’ man, I like nothing better than an evening sitting on my favourite comfy sofa, feet-up, drink in hand, watching TV.
But if you think that my evenings of tele-visual feasting involve watching men chasing a ball around and then kissing/hugging/slapping one another’s asses when they put said ball in a net, you would be wrong.
Not for me the tribal joys of sport. I care not for the endless analysing and statistical gathering of games won and loss. ‘We were robbed,’ I heard one sports fan moan to another in a pub once. ‘Robbed of what?’ I wondered. His team lost a game of some ball-based sport and he looked like he and all his family had just been diagnosed with some hideous disease that was sure to kill them all before the day was out. I just don’t get it.
No, when I get excited about something it has to be real and taste good. That’s why my evenings in front of the telly-box are never wasted. It’s all about the real beautiful game and sometimes even includes it: food, baby, glorious food.
Let me set the scene. The night is dark and wet, the wind is whipping down the Peninsula and the waves are forming in Dunmanus Bay. The fire is crackling nicely and as you press the channel-select button on the remote control, you know you are in for a treat because there, in your lovely, warm room on a wet and windy night, is Raymond Blanc cooking with fresh fish in Provence, or Rachel Allen, or Catherine Fulvio, or Martin Shanahan all cooking with home-grown ingredients and producing something real, something that offers more than just being part of a fleeting triumph or wallowing in the communal despair of a lost game.
However, like many a sports fan, I uttered those immortal words ‘I could do better than that myself’ just once too often. And unlike a football fan telling his friends in the pub that he could play better than some of the players on the TV, secure in the knowledge that he will never get the chance to be proved wrong, I, on the other hand, had my challenge taken up and last week found myself facing an audience of 50 hungry schoolgirls eager to test my culinary skills.
It all began when my darling daughter told her teacher that I wrote a cookbook. While it’s true I took part in producing a cookbook for people suffering from kidney disease, it was a joint effort between a courageous transplant recipient, some of the best chefs in Ireland and myself. My daughter left her teacher thinking that I had created all the recipes myself and that I was in fact a chef.
So, as part of the school’s ‘healthy eating’ week, they decided to invite a ‘chef’ to give a cookery demo to first-year students. They asked me to cook a meal for the girls; it was time to step up or shut up. I thought, ‘how hard could it be?’
I arrived at my daughter’s school in Dublin at 8a.m. in the morning. Armed with the ingredients of a well-loved family dinner – chorizo chicken – I met with the home economics teacher who led me to the classroom so I could set up. At this point, I was still very confident that I could pull it off a lá Neven Maguire or Clodagh McKenna; that was until I saw the poster hanging on the school’s notice board. ‘Chef Brian Moore will give a cooking demonstration this morning for first-year students’.
Chef Brian Moore began to wonder what he had gotten himself into. I quickly told the teacher that I was in fact a journalist and not a chef. ‘I just like to cook’, I said. ‘ Right’, the teacher said, ‘em, what about the cookbook?’
I quickly explained. ‘Ah, you’ll be fine. The girls are all looking forward to your demo and I am sure they will enjoy whatever you make,’ she said as she left me looking at the rows of empty seats in the classroom. As I set about getting ready, a sense of mild panic began to grow in the pit of my stomach.
Then the girls began to file into the classroom. First in ones and twos, then in much larger groups until I had fifty faces all staring at me. The panic was now in my chest.
My daughter started taking photos, which didn’t help with the nerves but I got underway and soon I had the room filled with the delicious smells of onion, garlic and chorizo. Then the questions started. ‘Are you from Cork?’ one young lady asked. ‘Yes, indeed I am’, I said wondering if I needed help from my daughter translating the Cork lilt into Foxrock-ese.
Soon it was time to transfer the chorizo chicken into the oven and I got to say those time-honoured words every TV chef has uttered since Mrs Bridges on Upstairs Downstairs: ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier.’
I plated up a serving of chicken to the sound of oohs and aahs from my audience and with that my outing as a would-be TV chef came to an end. Now I had to somehow ensure that all fifty girls got to taste my creation. We passed around a little and I mean a ‘little’ taste to everybody with promises of more to come when the portion now in the oven would be ready.
My thanks to the teachers and the girls from Loreto Foxrock for inviting me to cook at their school. I hope they weren’t too disappointed at my lack of cooking credentials. While I enjoyed the demonstration, I think I’ll stick to watching the TV chefs in the future.
So, be careful what you say because you never know who’s about to call your bluff. Not only did I have to prove that I could cook, I had to do it in front of fifty hungry teenagers. However, I did get photographic evidence that my daughter can do the washing up. It was worth it for that alone.
Here is my recipe for chorizo chicken. Why not try it and tell me what you think?
4 chicken breasts (skin on)
1 chorizo sausage (fresh if possible but dried will also work)
1 medium onion (chopped)
2 gloves of garlic (chopped)
1 courgette (sliced)
400g can of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons of sugar
400g can of butter beans (drained)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful of fresh basil
First, pre-heat the oven to 190˚C.
Season the chicken breasts with some salt and pepper.
Using an oven/hob-proof casserole dish or large frying pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and gently brown the seasoned chicken breasts on a high heat, two at a time, remembering to place the breasts in the pan skin-side down to begin with.
When the chicken has browned a little (to seal in the juices) remove from the heat, set aside and repeat the procedure with the next two seasoned chicken breasts.
Next, using the same pan or dish that the chicken was fried in, add the onions and garlic and reduce the heat to medium.
Slowly, soften the onions and garlic until they are translucent but not browned. Next, add the chopped or sliced chorizo sausage. Continue on a medium heat and watch the spices from the sausage slowly colour the onions and garlic.
Now add the chopped courgette and continue to cook on a medium heat until the courgette has softened and coloured too.
Add the tin of tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and then add two teaspoons of sugar. The sugar will enhance the flavour of the tomatoes. Stir and increase the heat to bring to a gentle simmer.
When the mixture begins to simmer, add the drained butter beans and stir. Next, add the fresh basil and stir again. Remember, never chop basil; always tear it with your hands as this releases more of the wonderful oils in the herb.
Now, return the browned chicken breasts to the pan or casserole and place the dish into your pre-heated oven, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes. When ready, the chicken should be soft and easy to cut and the sauce should have thickened.
Serve with a green salad and lots of crusty bread.