Cooking Up A Sketch: Clodagh McKenna in Galway

Cooking Up A Sketch: Clodagh McKenna in Galway

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I can take or leave soccer. Actually, I’d far rather leave it. But between playing and coaching, the men in my friend Lorraine’s family take it very seriously indeed. A few weeks ago Lorraine asked me if I’d like to go to a fund-raising cookery demonstration for the lads’ soccer club, Colga.
“It’s Clodagh McKenna,” she said.
“That really pretty one?” I asked. “Yeah, I like her, sure I’ll go.”

The place was packed out last night and we were a bit late, so the only seats left were stuck near the back. Hmm, I thought, this isn’t going to work – I had my sketching stuff with me. But it’s a good set-up, with a huge screen and a big angled mirror above the prep area where Clodagh would be cooking, so I figured I’d be okay. Clodagh started within a minute of our arrival, and yes, she’s really pretty – tiny and blonde with huge blue eyes and perfect teeth – but she’s also funny, down-to-earth and a very good, inspirational cook, whose cooking style has that lovely female thing of letting nothing go to waste, and there’s not the slightest fuss made about whipping up a multi-course meal.

(My kids like nothing better than to catch me swearing. I have now explained that it’s permitted to swear in the kitchen, but only if you’re making the Christmas dinner, and then only if you’re doing it alone. Last night Clodagh exhibited no such undignified loss of control.)

Clodagh started with a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, because it needed to set in the fridge for a bit. Throughout the demo, every time the cheesecake was mentioned, a big “Ooooh!” came up from the crowd (by far the majority of whom were ladies). It was like catnip to them. Clodagh told us that hands are much better than a spatula when it comes to pressing down the biscuit base. Sadly I miss a lot when I sketch but I won’t forget that tip.

When the cheesecake was in the fridge, Clodagh turned to the pesto and asparagus ricotta tart. This is where I emitted an “Ooooh!” of my own, as I would be more interested in a tasty savoury tart than a dessert. Clodagh used puff pastry and when she took the tart out of the oven it looked absolutely delectable – risen and light and delicious.

Clodagh McKenna cooking in Galway

After the break Clodagh got to the meat courses. She made a very nice roasted chicken with a mint and pea risotto to go with it. She shared her tips generously throughout.
“I lived in Italy for a while,” she said. “One thing I learned was how to make a really good risotto. Use butter, not olive oil, and shallots, which melt into the dish.”

Here’s my own tip when you’re cooking risotto: when you live in the back end of nowhere, which I do, and leave planning dinner till the last minute, which I usually do, you have to rely on the corner shop for your ingredients. Corner shops in my neck of the woods are not in the business of selling arborio rice – the best you’ll get is blandissimo boil-in-the-bag stuff. But they’ll usually have “pudding” rice in the baking section. It’s just short-grain rice. It is fine for risotto, paella and sushi – and doesn’t come with an “arborio” price tag.

Here’s Clodagh at work again, with her granny’s beautiful, delicate plate in the middle. I liked that.

Clodagh McKenna cooking more in Galway

My mother bought some stunning plates in Paris in the the 1960s. They had gold rims and paintings of freshwater fish on them. They were only used at Christmas and so they were always special to me. I coveted them. Then my mother decided that she’d “had the use of them” and started putting them in the dishwasher. I managed to rescue ONE before it lost its patterns like all the others. So well done Clodagh for saving her granny’s lovely plates.

After the chicken went into the oven, Clodagh started cooking some gorgeous-looking pork chops, rubbed with breadcrumbs, shallots, garlic and Dijon mustard. She served these on sweet potatoes covered with salt and cumin, which she then roasted. There happens to have been an increasingly sad-looking sweet potato on my kitchen counter for the last week or so, waiting for someone to put it out of its misery and stuff it into the juicer. I think I shall give it a rather more glorious end, and roast it Clodagh-style.

After the show, the women all greeted each other and discussed the cooking.
“She’s great, isn’t she?”
“So relaxed!”
“So easy!”
“And she’s so nice!”
“That tart looked amazing!”
And, overheard more than once –
“I’m in the mood to start cooking now when I get home!”

I was too, so I asked Lorraine if she’d come over for dinner next week with the family. I said I’d do the risotto and roast chicken.
“With the asparagus tart to start with!” I said, in the enthusiasm of the moment.
“Great,” said Lorraine, “but I’ll do the tart.”

Find the recipes for yourself on Clodagh’s utterly fantastic and very beautiful website, !

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  1. Adriana

    March 4, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    You managed to get me hungry again despite my hungover from a dinner last night!
    Delightful story and I’m impressed how you kept the features of her face repeatedly! Well done my friend!

    • Róisín Curé

      March 4, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      Thank you Adriana! I hope you decide to check out Clodagh’s website for some real Irish cooking!

  2. Alison O

    March 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Great sketches as always and great story!

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