Thu 2 Jun 2011
It’s no big secret: I love to cook. And lately I’ve found my passion for cooking again, thanks in part to having someone else to cook for (co-habitating with Mountaineering Man). I’ve been having a great time making our weeknight meals and have been inspired by a variety of factors like our weekly veg/fruit bags delivered by Home Organics and the local butchers and fishmongers in my new neighborhood.
As I whipped up another weeknight dinner the other day, I started lamenting over the fact that my visa here in Ireland only allows me to work as a freelance journalist because I would absolutely love to cook somewhere. Don’t get me wrong; I love journalism and I’ll always be a writer no matter what. While I don’t necessarily want to be a restaurant chef (plus I have no formal training) in an ideal world I could see myself cooking at a small breakfast/lunchy cafe type place, one that specialises in fresh and locally-sourced ingredients.
And since we’re fantasising here, I might as well go into detail. I can see myself at the aforementioned cute breakfast/lunchy cafe type place, creating relatively healthy and wholesome meals that would make good use of Irish produce and products – showcased with a slight LA-influence. Instead of typical turnip mash I’d make a lovely, hearty turnip, caramelized onion, potato and goat-cheese gratin – golden on the top and oh-so-creamy on the inside. I’d use day-old brown bread for a fantastic savoury bread pudding chock full of sauteed onions, sausage, sweet red bell peppers, finely-chopped broccoli all set with egg and a smattering of Irish cheese.
I would make use of my Japanese background and create some childhood favorites I think the Irish would just adore. One would be the potato korrokke, which is essentially a hand-held, crispy-on-the-outside potato cake flavoured with curry. It’s the perfect quick bite and I think Irish folk would go nuts for it – basically it’s all the flavours and texture of curry and chips but far better!
I’d do a healthy fish pie that had all the flavour but less than half the fat of the typical variety by making a dairy-free roux of light margarine and flour and combine that with silky soy milk and a dashi broth for a rich but waist-friendly white sauce. Combined with smoked Coley, grated carrots, broccoli, and spinach it would make the perfect base for a fish pie that’d be topped with a turnip and potato mash. Served with a fresh, crisp side salad of greens and cucumbers dressed with a tangy yogurt dressing, it’d make the ideal meal for the health-conscious lunch crowd.
When I see how many restaurants and cafes in Ireland are desperate for cooks, it makes me all the more frustrated that I’m not allowed to apply for such jobs. The only way I could work as a cook is if the restaurant sponsored me, and to be fair that’s a lot to ask considering I have no kitchen experience. I did run my own from-home catering business in Los Angeles and made food for upwards of 250 people at a time (I don’t recommend it!) but that’s the extent of it. All I can offer is my creativity, determination and dedication…and my crazy-mad skills, naturally!
They say “if you can see it in your mind, you can find it in your life.” I can definitely see it…can you?
Healthy Fish Pie
400 ml plain soy milk plus a bit more for the mash
1 bay leaf
8 ounces of smoked Coley
300 ml warm water
1 teaspoon dashi (you can find this at most oriental/Asian markets in Ireland)
1/3 of turnip, peeled and cut into cubes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
4 tablespoons margarine
4 tablespoons plain white flour
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 head of broccoli, chopped into very small pieces
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 bag of fresh spinach, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Step 1: Cook the fish! Pour the 400 ml of soy milk into a medium sauce pan. Cut one of the onions in half and place into the milk, along with the bay leaf. Cut the Coley into big chunks and place into the soy milk. Cook over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer; let simmer for about 8 minutes or until Coley is cooked through. Strain the mixture through a sieve and save the soy milk and fish; discard the onion and bay leaf.
Step 2: Make your mash! Place the cubes of turnip and potato into cold water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 10 minutes or until the turnip (which takes longer to cook) can be pierced easily with a fork. Drain. Mash with a masher and pour a bit of soy milk and add salt and pepper to the mix until it’s smooth but not too watery/creamy. It has to stand up on top of the fish pie so you don’t want it too runny or thin. Set aside.
Step 3: Make your white sauce! In a small saucepan, melt the margarine over medium-low heat. Add the flour and mix until incorporated – it’ll form a little ball or a few little balls of flour/margarine mix. Cook for another minute so that the flour taste can cook off. Mix the dashi with the 300 ml of warm water until the dashi is dissolved, and then add it to the Coley-infused soy milk. Slowly add the warm Coley-infused soy milk/dashi water mixture, just a little at a time, while whisking briskly. Turn the heat up to medium and continue to stir – the mixture will thicken as it heats up, which will take 3-4 minutes. Once it’s to a thick consistency, remove from heat and set aside.
Step 4: Cook your veg! In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Chop the remaining onion into small dice and add it to the pan along with the broccoli, carrots and spinach. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to season while cooking.
Step 5: Put your pie together! Place the Coley pieces together in the pie dish, using a fork to break it up into small but not tiny pieces. Add in the cooked vegetables. Pour the white sauce over the whole lot and mix together until fully incorporated. Now pile the mash on top of the mixture until the whole pie is covered. Then using a fork, make little marks on the top – this will help create little brown edges along the top of the pie. Bake in a 180 C degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until heated completely through. Serve hot!