Tag Archives: River Barrow

Do You Want Curry Chips With That? (with your Baked Curried Cod that is!) Serves 4-6

The other day a very old friend tracked me down via this blog, and since then we have exchanged a couple of emails. The kind of “old friend” I am talking about is the one you are forever bound to because you were in the same place at the same time during those precious formative years; the years where you were beginning to become the person you ultimately became (for lack of a more evolved explanation).

Curried Chips: the reason for this post!

Curried Chips: the reason for this post!

I met Maria when we were thirteen and we were thrown together, for better or for worse, until we were grown women of eighteen (supposedly anyway!), and, except for a few occasions when we happen to bump into each other, and keeping up a little through mutual friends, we had never really kept in touch. I didn’t see this as a  failure on either of our parts. It was just life, and our school friendship was complete in and of itself, unchanged by the years in between and the cheery hello I received from her last week.

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

Of course the way in which friendships like this one are rekindled  is to connect over the events that our lives revolved around at that time; the place we lived, the people we knew, the food we ate etc. And so when we emailed, we both started off with “remember when?” comments.

Maria’s “remember when” was about running over to get batter burgers at lunchtime! What’s a batter burger you may well ask? Basically, the Fish & Chip shop was the only place to have something quick to eat in the 1970’s through the 80’s, and was (and still is) synonymous with the last stop on the way home from a drunken night on the town. It was thought to be a good hangover cure, or at least make it more bearable.

Crispy battered cod

Crispy battered cod from The Saltee Chipper in County Wexford

  ‘The Chipper”, as any one of these places was generally referred to, was by and large run by first generation Italians in Ireland, and they had accomplished the art of frying fish, meat and potatoes (the staples in Ireland back then), in a small vat of bubbling oil to crisp perfection. There is nothing quite like a meal of battered cod and chips (french fries) with a good soaking of vinegar. It can be such a deeply satisfying dish when eaten at exactly the right moment. The batter burger sounds awful, a beef patty dipped in dough batter and deep-fried to a golden puffiness – yep, that does sound awful, but I assure you I must have liked it at one point in my life. Battered sausages were also a popular item but I never had the nerve to try one. They looked like long blistered…well they looked pretty disgusting to me!

Approacing Christ's Church Cathedral

Dublin is a great place for Fish and Chips

Being reminded of foods like batter burgers made me think about the food from the Chipper that I really enjoyed. I still make Fish and Chips today (plenty of examples of this on my blog) but the memory of Curried Chips was what I became fixated on. In Ireland chips came with everything. It was simply unacceptable to serve a meal without a potato on the plate in one form or another. The Chinese restaurants that opened up were soon to learn that serving chips on the same plate as the chicken curry and rice gleaned more hungry Bar-goers and so it became common to eat chips accidentally soaked in curry sauce.

a peak at the view

County Laois

I am really just coming to my own logical conclusion that the flavor of  the curry sauce on the chips was so popular it became a frequent request at the Chip Shop, and slowly but surely Curried Chips became a popular item on the menu. So much so, that along with the obligatory question, “salt and vinegar?” after your chips were hot out of the oil and in a neat little rectangular bag, you were asked if you wanted curry sauce too. It was either poured into the bag or given on the side. As messy as it was to eat, I preferred it spilling out of the bag!

Curried Chips with Cod Fish

My Version of Curried Chips with Cod Fish

The logic continued to follow that I would have to make Curried Chips myself to capture some of that nostalgia. When my son took his first bite he declared, “hey, these are like the curried chips in Ireland”

Enough said!

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For the Curry Sauce:

4 tbs unsalted butter

3 to 4 cups chicken or veggie broth OR 1 good quality bouillon cube and water (which is what I usually do for this. I use Rapunzel brand cubes: really great)

1 1/2 to 2 tbs mild or medium heat madras curry powder

1 tsp sea-salt

freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1 – Put sauce pan on medium/low heat and add the butter. When it has melted, add the curry powder and sir until incorporated. Add the flour and repeat process. If using a bouillon cube, crumble it in, and stir well.

melt butter, add curry powder

melt butter, add curry powder

2 – Next add the liquids 1 cup at a time while mixing with a whisk. Cook sauce (stirring all the while) until thickened and flour and spices have cooked into the liquid, (about 10 minutes or so). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper according to your likeness. Cover and set aside.

Cook for a little

Cook for a little

*If you feel your sauce could be thinner, add more stock or water until the desired consistency is reached.*

add liquid, salt adn pepper

Add liquid, salt and pepper

Serve with whatever you like; in this case, chips or french fries (depending on which continent you grew up on!)

serve with fries

serve with fries (either on the side like this, or smothering the chips completely in sauce!)

Recipe for Chips (Fries):

4 large potatoes (not huge, just large!)

3 tbs olive oil,

1 tsp sea-salt

generous grinding of black pepper

Method:

Preheat oven 475*

1 – Wash and dry the potatoes and cut lengthways into thick slices (3/5″, 1cm) and put in large bowl. 2 – Add the salt & pepper and the olive oil to bowl and mix well with hands until potatoes are well coated. When oven is hot take your big baking sheet and add 2 tbs oil to pan and place in lower 3rd of oven.

from potato, to slices, to fries!

From potato, to slices, to fries!

2 – Add the salt & pepper and the olive oil to bowl and mix well with hands until potatoes are well coated. When oven is hot take your big baking sheet and add 2 tbs oil to pan and place in lower 3rd of oven. Let pan warm for about 4 or so minutes. Take pan out (it will give off a bluish smoke, don’t be alarmed) and immediately pour potatoes onto pan (should sizzle).

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients

Mix in a bowl with rest of ingredients (I added a few sprigs of rosemary that I discovered lurking in the back of the veggie drawer)

3 –  Arrange evenly in a single layer and place in oven for 20 minutes. Take out, let pan cool for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and then turn fries with a spatula (or egg flip/turner?). They should release easily….if not, put back in oven for another 2 minutes and try again. Turn and place back in oven for a further 8 to 10 minutes (peak after 8). Take out, give them a minute to release themselves and get ready to serve or keep warm as the case may be.

great fries

Great fries

Recipe for Baked Curried Cod:

1 1/2 to 2 lbs fresh cod fillets (use 2 lbs if cooking for six), cut into 4 to 6 oz pieces

1 tsp mild curry powder

sprigs of fresh thyme (about 2 dozen)

1 tbs olive oil

1 1/2 tbs unsalted butter

sea-salt and black pepper for seasoning fish

Method:

Preheat oven to 400*

1 – Wash and dry fish. Season fish with sea-salt and pepper and curry powder. Rub a baking sheet with the olive oil and toss the thyme sprigs in the bottom in the even layer. Place the fish on top of the thyme.

*If some of your fish is thick and some thin (the tail end), all you have to do is fold the thin pieces in two to thicken them out and to assure they cook around the same time as your thicker pieces*

Arrange fish on baking tray with other ingredients

Arrange fish on baking tray with other ingredients

2 – Place a pat of butter on each fish piece and bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Take it our of the oven and cover with foil until ready to serve.

et voila!

et voila!

Serve this with whatever you like: if serving alone, add some lemon wedges. This is also great with egg noodles, rice and a sautéed green.

As you can see, I served the fish with curry sauce adn chips - delish!

As you can see, I served the fish with curry sauce and chips – quite delish!

June’s Famous Chicken Dinner!

I am missing my sisters back home in Ireland, and thinking about all the lovely food we cooked together. It is many months since my leaving and now there is a hole in my life. I am already plotting on how to see them again as soon as possible.

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Beautiful fields of Rape Flowers close to our house in Ireland

I love every aspect of cooking a meal, from the planning, to the more menial tasks like washing dirt off the potatoes. I find I am the most comfortable when I work alone or rather, it is nice being by myself not feeling lonely at all. That is not to say I don’t like activity while I am getting on with things. Mostly it is quite the opposite, and the din of family and friends coming in and out, or parking themselves for the duration on a chair and chatting with me through the entire process is when I have had my most memorable conversations. 

June's roasted potatoes

June’s roasted potatoes

There is an easiness that comes with cooking and the energy in the kitchen permeates through the entire house, sets the tone. That is why I find it so hard to understand why people choose take-out/away food over something that you can make yourself? When food is brought home in a bag or plastic containers you have missed out on the lovely clatter in the kitchen and the smells that put you in a good mood, that draw everyone together.

June's Roast Chicken with Bread Stuffing

June’s Roast Chicken with Bread Stuffing

Yes, of course there are days that I long for a little cardboard takeout box, complete with the narrow metal handle full of spicy Szechuan chicken, or the big corrugated square housing a pizza with everyone’s favorite toppings on its various quarters. What I’m saying is when I think about food, what comes to mind, is a roasted chicken being pulled from the oven, or the smell that comes from a pot of soup making my taste buds crazy for a taste… for a bite of something. The whole act of cooking creates an atmosphere that a take-out box just cannot compete with!

June making Pizza

June making Pizza

There is not a doubt in my mind that everyone can think of a person  that instantly conjures up the image of a dish that you uniquely associate with them. Sometimes it is the dish you think of first, and then you realize that you are missing someone, and craving their food and their company. I am sitting here on this weekend morning and I swear I can smell June’s Famous Chicken Dinner.

Famous Chicken Dinner

Famous Chicken Dinner

It was dubbed Famous Chicken Dinner by my son a couple of years ago and it is how we request it when we visit. She cannot understand why we attach so much importance to it? When she roasts a whole chicken, this is how it turns out. It is one of her standards and has never been thought of as anything but ordinary, and certainly not something she would dream of making if she was having people over for dinner.

another June Dinner

Another June Dinner

The thing is, she is unaware that when she makes something that is so familiar, so effortless to her, she has ended up perfecting something. She has unconsciously over the years worked out all the kinks in this dish, tweaking the amounts of butter, or salt and changing the herb mix until she got it the way she liked it the best. She did this, and then she left it, because it was perfect and needed no more fussing over. She will laugh if she reads this, but I know I am right. I know that if she made it for me right now, there would be no surprises. It would be exactly what I wanted, and if she changed something because she felt maybe having company meant doing things differently to make it special, she would regret it and wished she had left well enough alone.

The river Barrow at Milford, County Carlow

The river Barrow at Milford, County Carlow, a so familiar place to me

I have never asked for the recipe, which is an odd thing for me. I know it is just a stuffed roasted chicken with carrot and parsnip mash, roasted potatoes and a herby sauce made from the pan drippings, but I think it would be impossible to replicate. It would be just like my trying to master my mother’s stuffing, something I attempt to do each Christmas, and each time fail. I fail to capture that essence that made it taste the way it did. I believe there are some dishes that contain a soul, and this one happens to have June’s. I don’t know if there is a recipe for that.

June's roses

June’s roses

The Ireland Chronicles: Entry 2 – Far Away Hill are not Always Greener, St. Mullins & The Mullichain Cafe in County Carlow

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

Why does everything seem more appealing in retrospect? Have you ever unearthed a photograph of yourself 10 years on, and wished you could look like that again? The funny thing is, at the time this seemingly ideal image of you was captured, you were probably nothing but critical; of your clothes, your hair, you body. We really are an ungrateful bunch!

Kilkenny Castle (20 minutes away)

This is a lesson I relearn every time I go back home to Ireland, which I did this year for the entire Summer. Just driving the familiar road from my house to town had me gasping at the lovely views that dipped in and out through the hedgerows. These are the same roads I trudged to school on my bicycle for years, and I have my doubts that the lovely patchwork of green fields garnered any attention from me, more likely fretting over unfinished homework.

Stroan Fountain built in 1866 by the Kilfane House estate as a water supply for the community (25 minutes away)

Another bad habit I had for years upon returning home was to drop my bags in the house, rest for a few days and then plan day trips up the country, or across the country, to far-flung places I used to go with my family on our holidays, or places I had never had the chance to see, but longed to. Indeed some of my memories from these long excursions are of cramped seating, car sickness, and the countryside whizzing by the side window of the car.

Monastic ruin in St. Mullins, in County Carlow

It took a while, but I finally figured out that I didn’t have to go too far from our house to be somewhere spectacular. This is true of Ireland no matter where you go. There is always somewhere beautiful waiting for you around the next bend or over the ditch through a field, with the result that this time around, I spent more time enjoying, than burning up the roads of Ireland trying my best to pack it all in.

Church at monastic site in village of St. Mullins

That said, the only thing that separates our house from the little village of St Mullins in Country Carlow is a short drive through some of the most fairytale-like countryside and little towns in the south of Ireland. I am embarrassed to admit that I had never taken the time to explore this ecclesiastically historical site until I had left the country altogether! (In my defence it was easily overlooked for the more famous monastic sites like Glendalough and The Rock Of Cashel)

Swans in the River Barrow in St Mullins

I took the opportunity to visit this place a few times on my trip this time around. It wasn’t the only thing that enticed me however…I am very fond of finding great places to hang out and explore, and even more enthusiastic if there is an equally great place to eat to go along with it!

Banks of the River Barrow by Mullichain Cafe

You know you have arrived in St. Mullins when you find yourself flanked by the ominous Blackstairs Mountains on one side and Brandon Hill on the other. And of course this picturesque image is not complete without the River Barrow flowing in the valley between them.

The giant remains of a Motte & Bailey Castle (which the kids had to climb of course)

As you wind your way past the ruins of the monastic settlement of St. Mullins, which incidentally is the oldest settlement in Ireland, dating back to the 7th century, and on past the great mounded hill (part of the Motte & Bailey Castles of old), the road winds down to the bank of the River Barrow, and located right smack in front of it is The Mullichain Cafe.

View of Mullichain Cafe

Talk about location; this old converted 4 story store house is the perfect place to sit for lunch, cup of tea and a scone, or in my case a glass of crisp white wine. I cannot think of a better place to lounge after taking one of the many fabulous walking paths along the river.

Another view of the converted 4-Story Store House

When the River Barrow was one of the key waterways for the transportation of goods from one place to another, the cafe building was the store house for all manner of essential; from lumber to barrels of stout from Guinness. It was restored with care to preserve many of its original features by the cafe owners, Martin and Emer O’ Brien.

Toasted Chicken, sun-dried Tomatoes, & Lettuce served with Chutney

The giant white wall facing the river is lined with tables and big canvas umbrellas (more to keep off the rain than the sun I guarantee), and this is where I generally install myself after our drive or meander through the old graveyard and ruins of the monastery. On this particular day I timed our visit to coincide with hunger pangs, and we ordered up some delicious toasted sandwiches and wine, followed by dessert.

Home Made Pavlova

I will say that the food is very basic, but it is inexpensive and good. If you want my recommendation of what to try however, I will say that what the savory food might lack, the desserts (made on the premises), make up for it in abundance. There is always a tart or two to choose from (rhubarb, apple, pear) and sweet coffee cake like Lemon Drizzle or Carrot Cake. We had the Pavlova, and I will admit to wanting to lick the plate after wards. It was filled with all kinds of wild berries, and the meringue had the desirable “chewy” inside oh so important in making the dessert a success.

Enjoying sitting on the banks of the River Barrow

I have said this plenty of times, but a warm and friendly restaurant atmosphere can go a long way, even making up for so-so food in some cases. Every time I have been to The Mullichain Cafe, Martin O’ Brien has always been there, joking with customers and making everyone feel as at home as possible. He is rough and ready with a laugh that could cajole even an old grouch into good humour.

looking for water creatures after lunch

As I sat around reading at our table after lunch,the kids hung out in the water with nets trying to catch minnow fish and any other kind of creature they managed to unearth from the muddy banks. There were lots of other people around too, some with dogs who were deftly retrieving sticks from the water, some fishing off the banks, and there was even a class of an aquatic nature going, (all I know is that the students were wearing wet suits and jumping into the water when instructed!)

Enjoying the afternoon sun with Suki (the friendliest rottweiler in the world – really!)

There are some beautiful walks into the neighboring towns, and up into the mountains that can begin and end at this little cafe. That is my plan the next time. For now I must be content to sit thousands of miles away with my memories to sustain me.

be back soon