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Marie O'Keeffe, Emmet Hotel, Clonakilty

Marie O'Keeffe, Emmet Hotel, Clonakilty

If like me you’ve been spending long evenings planning your holiday you may find it reassuring to know that at your journey’s end there are dedicated tourism professionals who are also making plans at this time. And if you’re lucky you’ll stumble upon restaurants run by chefs that have the ambition and skills to serve you the flavours of their local produce. This week I dropped in to one such provider who was busy preparing her summer menu, Marie O’Keeffe, proprietor of the Emmet Hotel in Clonakilty. In keeping with these straightened times Marie is keen to offer great value and is introducing an evening meal deal comprising weekly main course specials with tea/coffee for just €10 or €12.50 with a glass of wine. In looking at changing her menu, however, Marie is clear about some things that won’t be changing. “The important thing is that even though we’re dropping our prices we’re sticking with our old suppliers that are still more expensive. Lots of restaurants are introducing value offers but they’re also dropping the quality of the ingredients. A lot of what they put out is muck. We’ve sampled meat from so many suppliers, they’re a lot cheaper but just not as good. We get all our meat from Dan Lordan in Ballinspittle and our fish from Ballycotton Seafood. The natural yogurt from Irish Yogurts gets a great reaction and visitors to Clonakilty always look for black pudding. There are great herbs and vegetables grown here and fruit too, like Bushby’s strawberries.” “You can buy in almost any dish prepared and just cook or reheat it straight from the van, but that’s not what we’re about. We make everything from scratch ourselves. For sauces and soups, fresh stock is particularly important. You can’t get the depth, the hidden flavours, from a sauce without real stock. I had a battle with a rep the other day who was trying to convince me to use Knorr bouillons. I said that all I could taste was the MSG. ‘But that’s what they want!’ he said. Maybe he’s right but you have to be true to your own standards.” Marie is a self taught chef and is pleased to share what she has learned when she finds someone whose delight in food matches hers. “If someone working here shows and interest in food I respond and encourage them. We’ve had 3 people so far who’ve begun working as kitchen porters and were clearly interested in cooking. We’ve supported them to go to college and become fully qualified chefs.” I managed to prize a few recipes and tips from her, though there are plenty of others that she’s unwilling to part with for now. “The summer menu will naturally be lighter but we’ll keep many of the dishes we’re known for. People like to try new things on holidays so we can be more adventurous during the summer. For example, we sell more offal during the summer. I absolutely love offal myself, particularly sweetbreads. Everything but the brain. When I started cooking in Cork city and later in London, we served offal to please the jaded corporate palate – people who were dining out 3 or 4 nights a week and wanted something different. Now people are rediscovering offal, it’s fashionable but also cheap.” The last recipe Marie gave me was for grilled goat’s cheese with honey, lavender and roast beetroot, a definite new addition. I don’t think I have ever tasted lavender as a herb and am salivating in anticipation of this one. So bring on the summer and bring on the menu!

Bluebell Goat’s Cheese with Honey, Lavender and Roast Beetroot

Roast the beetroot in the oven (180˚C fan assisted, 200˚C conventional) for 20-30 minutes or until soft. You can wrap each one in foil if you want as they bleed. Remove the skin and chop into cubes. Slice the goat’s cheese into 1” thick rounds. Place a sprig of lavender on top of the cheese and brush with local honey. Place under grill until slightly brown. In the meantime heat your beetroot in a tiny amount of olive oil. Place on plate and top with goat’s cheese.

Chicken Stock (most versatile)

1 large onion (remove the skin if you want a clear stock) 1 leek – use the green part only and keep the white chopped for use as veg 2 sticks of celery, chopped Add whatever fresh herbs are available (do not use thyme)

Bring to the boil and simmer for 1-2 hours. Skim occasionally. Strain and allow to cool before skimming off any fat. I don’t use carrot as it tends to give a stewey flavour, but not everyone in the kitchen agrees. If you want to get the sweetness of carrots, then sautee them in a drop of olive oil, cover and soften them in their own steam. Pour the stock into this to absorb the flavours at the end of the stock cooking.

Marie’s Homemade Brown Soda Bread

Makes 3 loaves

1kg bag of Howard’s Extra Coarse Brown Flour, 4 oz butter, 1 tsp bread soda, 1 oz brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 fistful wheatgerm, 1 fistful jumbo oats, 1 fistful pinhead oatmeal,  1 fistful roast buckwheat, 1 ½ litre buttermilk

Rub in butter and bread soda to the flour. Add all the other ingredients. Bake at 180˚C for ¾ hour in 3 1lb loaf tins. Remove from tins and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

Marie’s Offal Selection

Crubeens with White Pudding – boil gently for 2-3 hours until tender. Bone while still warm. Leave the toe bones in. Stuff with white pudding mixed with onion. Brush with garlic butter, roll in fine breadcrumbs and roast in oven for 20-25 mins (180˚C).

Sweetbreads with mushrooms – soak the sweetbreads in water with salt for at least an hour to remove the blood. Then blanch and allow to cool slightly so that you can remove the skin. Dip in eggs and breadcrumbs. Slice and fry. Once cooked, add cream, mushrooms and perhaps a drop of sherry.

Lambs liver with garlic – Lambs liver can be just as good as veal liver. Buy the liver in a large piece and keep in milk until ready to use. Fry it in butter in thick cuts. Once cooked pour melted garlic butter over the liver.

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