O’Leary’s Kitchen Memories
My earliest memories of the most gratifying rustic flavors from the Irish hearth, comes from my very own, hand-picked, pan fried, flat topped wild mushrooms, sautéed in salted farmer’s butter. There no better treat when you want to savor a moment in time.
I am one of 11 children.
Our kitchen, meaning O’Leary’s Kitchen always, always, always had something going on the stove.
Each and everyone of us had a “grá,” love for food. As my parents would say, we loved our grub!
As children, we spent our summers at a coastal village in the south east of Ireland. My Dad loved wild Irish mushrooms.
On many an early, early summer morning he would take our greyhounds for a run on the beach and then a gander back through the fields specifically to pick wild mushrooms.
I of course, tried many times to surface at that early hour and go with him. Finally, the early summer morning came that I managed under protest and with every effort of my being to go.
At the time I had no idea what picking and pan frying those mushrooms were going to do for me and where they were about to take me. That was the day I awoke to a new horizon and my crusade of creating sweet and savory culinary delights and infusing them with rustic flavors began.
The tantalizing aroma from the softly sizzling mushrooms held me captive from the get go. My first salivating bite caused me to pause and savor the mouth-watering ambrosia from those wild full flavored flat topped mushrooms sautéed in salted farmer’s butter. I was six years old.
After a lifetime of rattling pots and pans and enjoying stories through every morsel, I now have the urge to combine my thirty years of culinary expertise and Ireland’s oldest tradition of storytelling. I am about to share with you the best taste of Ireland you could possibly have.
I have a degree in Culinary Arts and Food Technology from the College of Catering, Dublin Ireland. I have worked in the finest hotels in Ireland.
From there I moved on to The Hilton World Head Quarters, Beverly Hills, California as a food buyer.
I then became a personal chef for many years before relocating to Hamilton, Montana. In June 2012, I became the Chef at The Farm Table Restaurant at Sleeping Child Farms.
“Over the 45 years I have been a road warrior, I have dined at and recommended to friends a lot good places to eat.
In this case, the old bromide that “less is more” is the best way to describe the Farm Table Restaurant.
Some restaurants are very good. Some outstanding. But only a tiny number are absolutely perfect…by my standards. The Farm Table Restaurant near Hamilton, MT is only one of six that I have ever described as “absolutely perfect.
Annette is the chef whose credentials are much more than impressive. If she should choose to leave the beauty of Western Montana and go back to work in an upper tier hotel in a major city, she could have a job in less than 24 hours.” …,
W.W. Sharp, Kansas City, MO. Senior Contributor www.TripAdvisor.com
I Give Every Dish My All
Cooking for me is a labor of love and a matter of pride. I strive for excellence and give each and every dish my all. If I could sum up being a chef into one word, I would have to say Exhilarating!
Having said all that, let’s move on to the lighter side of life. What would an Irish Kitchen be like without a yarn or two to share with you? So sit back and enjoy a true story on Irish soda bread from my memorable youth in Ireland.
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread & Don’t Forget The Butter! Part 1.
Irish kitchens are not only known for their wholesome, delicious, and what I call comfort foods, but also for gatherings of friends and neighbors to share their, laughter and joy, their music, song, dance and stories.
I grew up in Ireland, and had the good fortune of visiting many an Irish kitchen with breads and scones constantly in the making, and a pot of tea brewing morning, noon and night on the hearth. I can happily and honestly say I ate the best Irish soda bread and the best tea-scones from here to God knows where.
My scrumptious delights went down a treat as I listened to (just to mention a few) the O’Learys, the Kellys, the Doyles and the Connollys, share the good fortunes and misfortunes of anyone from the President of Ireland to the Queen of England.
On those cold and bleak winter nights, as we hugged the hearth sometimes in conversation and sometimes in silence, I enjoyed many mouth-watering simmering soups and stews, and snacked on sweet and savory rustic flavors that would certainly warm the cockles of your heart and cure all ailments.
Speaking of Ireland, its people, the food and the hospitality, is so natural for me it’s like exhaling after inhaling. Those salivating moments and warm hospitable gatherings I certainly enjoyed.
As I look back and go down memory lane, I realize even at an early age our taste-buds were already set and our rustic palates were defined.
There is a great satisfaction formed when the wonderful warm aroma from Irish soda bread is spreading through your kitchen. And a greater soul deep satisfaction formed while indulging in its mouth-watering disappearance.
When you familiarize yourself with this tactic, there is no turning back.
In my younger days, at eleven years old and shortly before my confirmation, a very good classmate of mine borrowed two loaves of soda bread from his mother’s hearth to take with us on a much anticipated blackberry picking excursion.
Needless to say, the group of us were delighted to have warm soda bread to enjoy for lunch, but the only thing missing was butter and a knife to spread it with.
“How come you didn’t steal butter and a knife while you were at it?” another friend asked, as she longed for the warm crusty soda bread and butter sensation. Once you are used to this taste it’s not easy to ignore it.
My dear friend answered without blinking an eye and giving much thought to his answer, “because the butter and knife always sits in the middle of the table for everyone to use, and me ma would notice they were gone.”
Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread & Don’t Forget The Butter! Part 2.
So as the story goes, of course my friend’s mother noticed the missing loaves of soda bread and the butter still on the table. This is a simple bread to make, so she rolled up her sleeves and got started on another batch.
As she preheated her oven to 450 F. and gathered her ingredients together, she couldn’t help but chuckle to herself. Imagine taking the scrumptious warm loaf of soda bread and not the butter. Half the enjoyment is the mouth-watering delectable taste with the melting butter.
“Not to worry,” she thought, “I’ll make this soda bread extra special. I’ll make it in my mother’s mixing bowl. Soda bread is at its best when made in a ceramic bowl, it helps keep the dough cool.
In her mother’s precious bowl (which was handed down from her grandmother), she rubbed 4 ounces of soft margarine into 1 lb of all-purpose flour. She casually added one tea-spoon of salt, one tea-spoon of sugar and one tea-spoon of bread soda.
Every Irish kitchen has 8 to 10 ounces of buttermilk at hand at all times for moments like this. You never know when a visitor may arrive or the family is extra hungry for their favorite snack at anytime during the day or night.
Irish soda bread satisfies the sweet taste buds by adding a little jam or marmalade, and of course we already know the savory taste buds are satisfied by having it with plenty of butter.
My friend’s mother was anticipating a large supply of blackberries from his blackberry picking excursion, so she was already salivating at the thought of home-made blackberry jam on her hot buttered soda bread.
She fluently and swiftly mixed her dough after adding the buttermilk until the texture was soft and raggedy and leaving the side of her mother’s ceramic bowl. Her special soda bread batch was looking good, not dry and separating, so she sprinkled a little flour on her work area and tipped it out
She gently kneaded the dough for about 20 seconds or so, as soda bread requires very little kneading, just enough to shape it and hold it together. She knew to get the bread in the oven quickly while the buttermilk and bread soda were working together in high gear.
After shaping the loaf into a 6 to 8 inch round, she cut a deep cross halfway into the loaf allowing it to rise to its capacity.
She sprinkled a modest amount of flour into her baking pan to stop the soda bread from sticking, put her dough in it and popped it into her preheated 450 degree F. oven for the first ten minutes, and then lowered the temperature to 400.
The total baking time was 45 minutes, which gave her time to hang the washing on the line and do a little ironing.
When my friend’s mother returned to the kitchen 45 minutes later, the welcoming aroma from the soda bread was putting her taste-buds in overdrive. She removed the freshly baked bread from the oven and tapped the bottom for a hollow sound. It was perfect.
She placed it on a wire tray allowing it to cool. A pot of tea was simmering on the hearth so she poured herself a well-earned cup. For the most part, the Irish do not have a cup of tea on its own, a tasty something or other has to go with it.
The woman of the house was salivating for the taste of hot buttered soda bread. She broke one quarter off the loaf and cut a thick slice with her sharp serrated bread knife. She was a brief second away from the savored moment of mouth-watering, delectable pleasure. She turned to reach for the butter, but the butter was gone!
Are you young at heart? Do you remember Darby O’Gill and The Little People back in the day? Visit my children’s website www.kidschristmasstory.com for a completely different taste of Ireland.