A farewell to Kilcrohane.

Nothing lasts forever. All good things come to an end. One door closes and another one opens. The glass is half full not half empty and so on.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day in Kilcrohane.

These are the comforting words I have been telling myself over the last few weeks as we prepare to leave Kilcrohane for our new home just down the road, at the gateway to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, in the village of Durrus.

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

Our year on the Peninsula has past so quickly that as I sit here looking out the window at Dunmanus Bay glistening in the February sunshine, it feels like we have just arrived and unpacked.

I will miss Kilcrohane. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, this is a very special place and I have been very lucky to be able to live, even if only for a short time, in such a wonderful community.

Those of you who have been reading my scribblings over the last year will know all about the beauty of this very special part of West Cork. We have enjoyed adventures both on land and at sea, we’ve met artists, musicians, chefs, farmers, fishermen, sailors and of course the locals who make this place so inviting. We’ve had friends from the city who stayed for weekends and went home jealous (though they’d never admit it) and determined to come back.

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

There were days when the rain just didn’t stop, and the south-westerly gales had us wondering if the house would still have a roof by the end of it all, but then there were the days, just a few, when we were in the right place at the right time. When the sun turned the Peninsula into a lush green finger of land jutting out into the blue and white of the Atlantic Ocean. The days when you could sit on a rock and watch the gannets diving into Dunmanus Bay, or the seals basking on the rocks, or the otters fishing for sea urchins. Those few days when all seemed right with the world, when walking along the Funeral Path or the Fisherman’s Walk you knew that it didn’t get much better than this.

Sea Urchins, spiney but delicious?

Sea urchins, spiney but delicious?

First fish of 2012 a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus bay

First fish of 2012, a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus Bay

I particularly loved meeting the people who arrived during the summer for their annual vacation. Standing on Kilcrohane pier watching the sun set over the Peninsula, their children tired and happy after a day spent swimming, fishing from crabs or messing about in boats, standing there we would nod a knowing hello before the usual conversation would begin.

‘Isn’t it great here,’ the tourist would say.

‘Indeed it is,’ I would answer while we both looked out over the blue water towards the Mizen Peninsula.

‘You can’t beat West Cork, it’s a long journey from Dublin but it’s worth it just for this view alone,’ the tourist would continue.

‘Yes, it is lovely,’ I’d say smiling as I prepared myself for the next inevitable question.

‘Where are you from yourself, did you have far to travel?’

‘No,’ I’d answer.

‘Just a few fields away, I live here,’ I’d say, as I picked up my fishing rod and headed back home with one or two fresh pollock for dinner.

Heading for home at the end of the summer 2012

Heading for home at the end of summer 2012

This, I suppose, was cruel but I do enjoy saying I live in such a beautiful place.

Let me give you a quick rundown of the highlights of our year living dangerously in West Cork.

I stopped wearing suits, I grew a beard, I passed out while waiting to interview the Minister for Health, I sailed a million euro yacht in Dunmanus Bay.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

I plucked and ate pheasant, dined on lobster and scallop freshly caught from the same bay, visited a fish farm in Bantry Bay, reported on a pirate invasion and compered a food festival.

Far from the Caribbean these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Far from the Caribbean, these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Scallops fresh from the bay.

Scallops fresh from the bay.

My first brace of Pheasant

My first brace of pheasant

My wife started her own food business and we built our first home together, I put my back out and needed a pain relief injection while painting a skirting board. All in all, I think you’ll agree, it’s been a very productive year in West Cork.

Carrageen Moss pudding

Carrageen moss pudding

Now we are about to begin another chapter in our adventure, if I can be allowed to quote a certain political party’s slogan, ‘A lot done, more to do’. I will continue to eat the Sheep’s Head and all it has to offer but I am determined to cast my net out beyond the Peninsula and see what’s going on in Skibbereen, Schull, Ballydehob and Clonakilty. The Beara and the Mizen peninsulas are full of places to explore and good things to eat so I hope you will continue to follow Eating the Sheep’s Head as the next story unfolds.

As we begin to pack up and get ready for the journey to Durrus, I want to thank everybody in Kilcrohane for all their kindness and making us feel so welcome. Even though they knew that a journalist was living in their midst, they never once threatened to run me out of the village. Believe me, this was a change from my last posting.

Thanks to Eileen and Mary for keeping the drinks flowing, to Elaine and Noel for the wonderful house, to Frank and Marie for providing us with not only our daily newspaper and pint of milk but also for the wonderful food and wine at the Grainstore. Thanks to Finbarr for his superb rendition of ‘Galway Girl’ played on the spoons, and to the human jukebox Neil Lynch for a New Year’s Eve to remember. Thanks also to the ‘man with the gun’ for keeping us supplied with game and seafood and of course thanks to everybody who we met and who made us feel at home.

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Finbarr Spillane the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

Finbarr Spillane, the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

The Kilcrohane Farmers' Market

The Kilcrohane Farmers’ Market

Close encounters of the woolly kindWell, that’s it, next stop Durrus.

Bye bye dream job

Well, the votes are in, the foodies of Ireland have spoken, and I woke this morning NOT the new Food & Wine restaurant critic.

To say that I am disappointed is an understatement but this disappointment will not last. Contrary to reports, I have not taken to the bed or the bottle (although, now that I think about it, a nice glass of whiskey might help get over the rejection a bit faster).

Firstly, I want to congratulate the winner, Rachael Kealy. I look forward to reading your first review. Then, to all the people who voted for me and supported me, thank you very, very much.

I have decided to put it all behind me and continue eating, drinking and writing. If I can’t make it as a restaurant critic, I shall concentrate on winning a Nobel Prize for Literature or Angling, or both. I mean, after making it to the top five Food & Wine finalists, how hard can it be?

Oh, I’ve also asked the good people at Food & Wine to provide me with a list of all the people who voted for me. I shall spend the next few weeks seeing exactly who among my ‘friends’ deserve a mention in my memoirs. If, for some compelling reason, one of you could not vote for me (the death of a loved one, dog ate your copy of Food & Wine/computer/ both hands or you lost the ability to communicate), please don’t worry. I am not one to hold a grudge. I don’t own a gun. And I won’t make you feel bad the next time we meet. If, however, you fail to receive an invite to Kilcrohane over Christmas, find yourself blocked on Facebook, if I seem to cross the road/try and run you over every time we meet, please know now that it’s not personal.

So, that’s that then. The dream job has slipped away once more. Thanks once again for all your support and good wishes. I am truly delighted to have been chosen as one of the finalists.

Now it’s back to life on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, cooking, eating, writing, fishing and enjoying every minute of life on the shores of Dunmanus Bay.

The world’s most critical job

Aside

Right, before I continue with this blog entry we need to get a few things straight from the start.

I realise that it has been three months since my last blog (crikey, this sounds a lot like being in confession) and this entry has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sheep’s Head or life in West Cork but I have a favour to ask.

Let me begin by promising a series of up-coming blogs filled with pirates, Atlantic Challenges, food fairs, book launches, an artist postman, Graham Norton and lots more. The summer has been very busy.

All this with photos and video too, but first let me explain why I need your help.

As you are no doubt aware by now, I love food. I haven’t been a journalist very long and over the years I have interviewed presidents, politicians, pop stars as well as some of the best chefs in Ireland and the UK; but of all these achievements, I rate two feature articles for a certain food magazine as the highlight of my scribbling career.

That magazine is Food & Wine Ireland and now they are looking for a new restaurant critic.Image

In true reality TV style, the publishers decided to make a competition out of the search and asked all those interested to write 150 words on their favourite food experience.

So, I sent in my entry and earlier this week I found out that I have been chosen as one of the five finalists. It’s like XFactor, only much more important.Image

Anyway, it is up to the public to decide and vote for Ireland’s next restaurant critic and here’s where you come in.

I have attached the piece I wrote for the competition and, if you like it, you can log on to www.harmonia.ie/critic/ and perhaps vote for me?

Delicious Memory

By Brian Moore

The last warm rays of the sun are on my face as I set about preparing the catch.

Mackerel from the bay, tiger striped in turquoise and blue, stiff with freshness, ready for the knife. The driftwood crackles and the skillet is warming nicely. But first a strip of mackerel dipped in light soy touched with wasabi, and swallowed with delight. That fresh, salty, oily tang followed by the fiery punch. Sublime.

Sliced onions are softened on the skillet, now the fresh fish, added with a few home-grown leaves of sage. The orange glow on the horizon calls for a beer, the fish is almost ready. A lucky few gather with plates at the ready, just one more moment. A splash of white wine vinegar sends a delicious cloud into the air.

I sit on a rock, curling my toes into the sand with every bite.

Isn’t food great?

 

Let’s put it this way: I live in West Cork, I love food, I love to cook, I love to write, please help make my dream job a reality and I guarantee* I will take you all out for dinner should I get the job.

*Not a guarantee.

Safari in the Bay

It’s amazing what you find if you take time to look about; let me give you an example. For months now, I have been fishing from a certain spot just down the road from the house. I always travel the same path, stopping every now and again to admire the Bay or the flora and fauna as it changes from one season to the next. When I arrive at ‘my spot’, a huge flat rock that slopes gently towards the deep waters of Dunmanus Bay, I get on with the task at hand (chucking a lure out to the waiting fish) and never really pay much attention to the environment around me.

Low tide reveals a hidden treasure trove of life in Dunmanus Bay

This all changed a few days ago. I arrived at the spot to find that the tide was out. Very far out. Where once there were metres of water between where I stood and the dark rocks far below, I could now easily climb down, browse the rock pools and, most importantly, retrieve the lures that I lost over those previous attempts at catching any fish at all from Dunmanus Bay.

The flora on the Peninsula

As I explored the pools in an attempt to get closer to the waterline so that I could start fishing (and yes, I have since learned that when the tide is out it’s the worst time to go fishing), I suddenly discovered, in the crystal-clear water of one of the pools, these purple spiny globes. I had stumbled across a nest of sea urchins.

Just some of the sea urchins in the pool getting ready for love

Believe me, this was not just one or two sea urchins; I counted fifty and then gave up. The pool, which would normally be completely out of sight and out of reach, was full of these prickly creatures and I couldn’t resist reaching out and picking one up.

Sea urchins, spiny but delicious?

Now I know that for many out there sea urchin is a delicacy and we had eaten these at the Ivory Tower in Cork city but I have to admit that I am completely stumped as to how to prepare or deal with these amazing creatures in the kitchen. After a quick search on the interweb and some really good advice from a true food hero (thank you once again Sally McKenna), I discovered that while the sea urchin is not that difficult to prepare the best time to harvest is in September. Right now they have other things on their tiny little minds, hence the army of them in the pool. Apparently, it’s the season of love for sea urchins and a few prickly spines aren’t going to get in the way.

A sea urchin ready for some creative cookery but what’s the next step?

So, from now until September I will be closely guarding the secret location of my sea urchin cache. However, I could do with some recipes and suggestions as to how we should enjoy these delicacies from Dunmanus Bay and would love to hear from anyone who can help.

As I climbed back up the rocks to my spot, I suddenly got the feeling that I was not alone, I looked over my right shoulder to find four pairs of eyes watching me. There, floating not 10 metres from me, four seals bobbed gracefully in the water as they munched on the fish I had come to catch. I found a comfortable rock and sat basking as the seals continued eating their lunch. I was amazed to see the hidden landscape that was now revealed by the receding tide. Rocks with colonies of baby mussels clinging firming to the surface, sea snails, anemones, starfish and, of course, the ever present collection of seaweeds, all laid bare before me. As I sat there, taking all this in, something climbed out of the water and sat on a rock just a couple of metres away. This new arrival was not a seal; the seals had moved on (having, I supposed, wolfed down the underwater buffet). It sat there looking directly at me and then got back into the water and disappeared. An otter!

Empty and sun bleached. Somebody knows how to get the best out of these prickly creatures.

Suddenly there was a splash and there, swimming on its back, the long brown otter was on the surface and this time it wasn’t alone. As it climbed back on to its rock I saw, held firmly in its jaws, a fish, a cuckoo wrasse I think, and the otter set about enjoying its lunch. With all these expert anglers around, I decided to call it a day and headed home, fishless once again, but amazed at the diversity of wildlife both above and below the waters of Dunmanus Bay.

The Caribbean? No, West Cork baby!!!!

A perfect day

I really, really enjoyed the summer of 2012.

Remembering it now, I can feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes. It’s all fine having warm, dry weather but to have warm, dry weather on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula means that you are in fact transported to what many have described as the Riviera of Ireland.

The summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day.

Well, when I say many I mean me; I describe it as the Riviera of Ireland because when the weather is good, and I mean really good, ‘good enough to wear a polo shirt without losing the circulation in your arms’ good, then there is no place like the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

It all began on Friday morning; somebody somewhere turned up the thermostat, switched on the sun and turned off the cloud machine. Blue skies, temperatures in the mid-twenties (that’s the high-seventies for our American friends – practically a heat-wave for Ireland), warm, blue water in the Bay and the swallows returning en mass from South Africa to their holiday homes along the Peninsula.

As I left the house, there was a blast of warm air, warm air that was coming in from the outside not the other way around – like when the cabin crew open the door of the aircraft upon landing at your sun holiday destination. The birds were singing, there were smiling people everywhere and all was right with the world.

Now, here in Ireland we have learned down through the generations that you have to make the most of the good weather when it arrives. So, if you are ever on this Island and you encounter people who look like they have third-degree burns, this means there must have been good weather in the not so distant past. If indeed you are lucky enough to be here when the weather is good then you will see people (men for the most part) stripped to the waist as they go about their daily business: driving cars, shopping, sitting on buses, drinking in pubs, etc. A simple rule applies – when the sun comes out, take off your shirt. As for sun cream to protect against skin cancer and sunburn, well, that’s just for girls and children. A real man knows that the harmful effects of the sun do not apply to his milky white skin and, anyway, the ladies love it when the Irish male goes topless.

You will be glad to hear that I did not strip off my top to celebrate the good weather. I did however put on my first polo shirt of the season and I got out the ‘legs’. That’s right; I exposed the good people of Kilcrohane to the milky white goodness that is my legs. At first, I feared for the eyesight of my neighbours who would be exposed to their blinding whiteness but I decided to risk it and hope for the best. Now, suitably attired with shorts and a polo shirt (I also removed my vest but decided not to go ‘commando’), I headed out to enjoy the Irish summer.

And enjoy the summer we did. Plans were quickly put in place for a picnic. Armed with marinated chicken, a mushroom and pepper frittata, olives, bread, a really good bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (we also included a flask of tea, after all this was an Irish picnic) and the fishing rods, we headed for a tranquil and beautiful bay just down the road from our house.

An ideal spot for a picnic

After a short walk along the headland, we found our spot overlooking Dunmanus Bay where it joins the Atlantic Ocean. As we sat on our perch, looking at the blue sky, the green patchwork of fields along the Peninsula and the clear water, it was hard to imagine the gale force wind and driving rain that had only a few days ago rushed down the length of the Bay.

We drank our wine and toasted our good fortune to live in such a beautiful place. At this very moment, our day out enjoying the good weather was almost perfect. Just one more element needed to fall into place and then this Saturday could go down in history as ‘a perfect day’.

I had the fishing rods; if only we could return home with sun-kissed skin and a few fresh fish, that would be something to tell the grandchildren about.

Ready for the first cast of the day

I set off armed with my rod and a new lure that cost me the princely sum of €1.50 ($1.89). ‘This,’ the man in the tackle shop said as he held the new lure up to the light, ‘this will have the fish out of the water and on to the rocks quicker than dynamite’. I wasn’t convinced but dynamite is a lot more expensive and harder to come by (typing ‘dynamite for sale’ into Google seemed unwise) so I handed over the €1.50.

My new ‘dynamite’ lure

As I stood on the rocks ready to cast, I could see gannets diving in the distance and a cormorant drying its wings on the rocks. ‘I hope they left some fish for me,’ I thought as I cast the lure out into the Bay. When it hit the water about 36 metres (40 yards) from me, I counted to 10, slowly, to give the lure time to sink. Then, as I began to retrieve the bait (still wondering about the possibility of getting dynamite), the lure suddenly stopped and the rod was almost wrenched from my hand.

At first I thought the lure was caught in rocks or some dense seaweed, a situation I have found myself in many times. However, this was different, my fishing rod was bent over and the tip was moving in all directions. I lifted the rod up; the movement became quicker and stronger. I began to reel in, there was definitely something alive on the other end of the line and after a few minutes (minutes that felt like a lifetime) I got my first glimpse of the fish. A long, silver body attached to the end of my line getting closer by the minute.

How about this for a stunner? And the fish ain’t bad either! Please note the ‘legs’ have been cut from the photo to avoid blindness.

After some mad thrashing on top of the water, I managed to land the pollack on to the rocks. I stood there amazed; not only had I caught a fish, a very big fish, over 3 kilos (7lbs), I did this on my first cast. It seems I don’t need to order the dynamite after all. Three more fish followed in quick succession. I actually arrived home with fish, no excuses about the wrong tides or the wrong water temperature, real fish that I didn’t buy or get as a present. A perfect day at last.

Pollack from Dunmanus Bay

Today as I sit here writing my blog and looking out at the rain lashing against the window, watching the grey sky and the trees swaying in the wind, it all seems like a dream. Ah, the Irish summer of 2012; it was the best 48 hours ever.

Heading for home at the end of summer 2012

The West Cork effect

West Cork does strange things to perfectly ordinary people. Back when we first moved to the Peninsula, I was told about the ‘West Cork air’ and the effect it has on anyone who spends enough time absorbing all its goodness.

You may think I’m joking but there is something very strange going on down here. I tell you this because it seems that this West Cork effect has taken control. Back in January, as I strolled around the fantastic farmers’ market in Skibbereen, I met the wonderful Sally McKenna. Now, Sally and her husband John produce the Bridgestone Guide, which is the guide to all things good to eat in Ireland, and they have long been my heroes. Indeed, to me they encapsulate my ideal West Cork lifestyle: writing, eating and enjoying the landscape with all that it has to offer.

Happy shoppers at Skibbereen Farmers’ Market

Anyway, Sally had set up a stall at the market in Skibbereen selling cosmetics that she makes from harvesting seaweed along the coastline and when I told her about my West Cork adventure living on the Sheep’s Head for a year she smiled. ‘Oh, you’ll never leave,’ Sally said. ‘West Cork won’t let you; one of these days you’ll have a stall at a farmers’ market. Wait and see.’

I laughed at the idea but Sally is on to something; Firstly, you get the itch to grow your own vegetables (which we do), and then you find you can’t leave the house without your camera (I never do), somehow food tastes better (yes it really does) and everything seems to slow down. For those hardcore individuals who really get stuck-in to the West Cork lifestyle, it’s all about dreadlocks, yoga and making your own clothes. I’m not quite at that stage yet but my wife has crossed the Rubicon, so to speak; well, of course, she was born here so maybe it’s not that strange. As we have learned, one of the main ways you know that West Cork has gotten under your skin is opening your own stall at a farmers’ market.

Even Leo has gone all West Cork

For many, this involves selling their excess veg or the eggs from the chickens they now keep, or homemade cakes, or the ceramics and pottery that they create themselves. However, my wife has come up with a unique product and is now selling it to some very appreciative customers.

Proof of the ‘West Cork effect’. Lamps made from driftwood created by a Frenchman living in Kilcrohane.

Ladies and gentlemen, my wife has unleashed her Carrageen Moss Pudding on the people of West Cork. Regular readers will remember my first encounter with this pudding when I described it as tasting like straw and having the consistency of rubber. Well, it seems that I will never get a job as a food critic because the general public can’t get enough of it.

Carrageen Pudding

Twice my wife and I have gone to the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market, set up the stall, and sold out of the pudding on both occasions. We also set up at the Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market in Kilcrohane and again sold out. When I say ‘we’, my input involves nothing more than helping to set up the stand and offering moral support. Caroline does all the work. She has spent hours perfecting her recipes and trying new flavours. Vanilla, orange and lemon, Irish cream liqueur and carrageen pudding with stewed rhubarb or apple – all have been received with gusto. At the markets, I play my usual role of arm candy for my very successful better half. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway. In reality, I just stand there, run for refreshments, and then help to load up the car again. While I am damn good at getting the tea, my standing there and the loading of the car is only undertaken with the expert supervision of my wife. I know my limits.

Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market in front of Eileen’s Pub in Kilcrohane

But getting back to the so-called ‘West Cork frame of mind’, now that we have opened a market stall, I would like to inform you all that I will not, repeat not, be attempting to grow dreadlocks or take up yoga. I have, however, embraced my new life in West Cork in my own way. My many suits, for example, are, as I type, gathering dust in the wardrobes and sometimes I can go two (yes, two) days without shaving. However, I fear that my body has now built up an aversion to wearing suits. The last time that I wore one, I ended up on a trolley in Bantry General Hospital. I was waiting to speak to the Minister for Health who was opening a new unit at the hospital when suddenly I found the room spinning. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was hooked up to various machines with doctors and nurses in attendance; all this because I wore a suit after months of casual clothes. But I still got the story and, no, the Minister for Health did not call to see if I was ok.

So, it seems that if you’re not careful, the West Cork lifestyle can in fact damage your health. I may try and wear a suit again one of these days but I’ll have to have at least one doctor standing by first.

Beware of the West Cork air.

Call my bluff

 

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’.

Ingredients ready, it's game on

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.

Time for a prayer before we get down to the cooking?

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.

Yes, I'm from Cork and proud of it!

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.’

Chorizo chicken with a green salad

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.

Dishing up for 50, it was tough but everybody got a 'taste'

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.

Proof at last, Ellie can wash-up.

Here is my recipe for chorizo chicken. Why not try it and tell me what you think?

 

CHORIZO CHICKEN

Serves 4

Ingredients

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)

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A handful of fresh basil

METHOD

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.