When I was a kid I wanted to be a chef. I caught the bug early on at home, helping my mum out arond the kitchen. My earliest forays into cooking were mainly in the area of pastry. I remember mixing up cake mixtures, rolling out pastry for tarts, kneading dough for bread. The first recipe I devised on my own was for a ginger snap biscuit - I seem to recall it contained flour, brown sugar, ground ginger, and butter.
We also make a lot of candy - hard toffee (butterscotch was our favourite) and fudge mainly. We also occasionally made Turkish Delight, marshmallows, and coconut ice (there's a retro candy for you, crazy pink and white stuff - I think it is based on an Indian sweet, coz I've tasted stuff like that from places in Jackson Heights, but given an Anglo name).
Speaking of marshmallows, my friend Jai in Seattle made some amazing marshmallows recently that she sent us. So moist and pillowy! She ought to be making them full-time. Also speaking of marshmallows, Tamara made Nolan a batch of pink rice crispie treats recently to take to school on Valentine's Day. I'd not had them before - when I was a kid we'd make rice crispie cakes with chocolate instead of marshmallows. They are super-easy to make, and were a staple at kids birthday parties back in the day. The also make a good lunchbox treat. I made a batch a few nights ago and they were a big success.
3 oz milk or semi-sweet chocolate
2 oz butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup or light corn syrup*
4 cups rice crispies
In a double boiler or a glass bowl set over a pot of boiling water, melt the chocolate, and then add the butter and syrup and stir to combine. When the butter is melted add the rice crispies and gently stir to coat with the chocolate mixture. Spoon into cupcake papers, and allow to set. Put in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
Yield: about 12
* I'll talk about my feelings about corn syrup in another post.
Back to the childhood cooking lark, I loved picking up cookery books from the library - much to the amusement of my teacher, and bemusement of my classmates - when we took class field trips to the village library, and I spent hours poring over cooking magazines at home. My mother had a good collection of cookbooks, amongst them a couple by the then-popular Graham "Galloping Gourmet" Kerr. It was actually from one of his books that I had an early taste epiphany, as I took a fresh strawberry and sprinkled it with freshly-ground black pepper. Try it, it works!
Of course I never did get to become a chef. Fast-forward about 8 or 10 years from when I had first started cooking, and many of the options presented to me were less-than-appealing. Certainly I could have gone the old-school route and headed off to a kitchen somewhere abroad and apprenticed (though I was probably already a little old, and spoke very little French, or any other foreign languages). In Ireland it seemed to me that the only cooking courses were aimed at those interested in working in hotels, corporate cafeterias or institutional kitchens. This was Ireland in the late-1980s, deep in recession, and there were very few restaurants, and we didn't have a culture of eating out and fine-dining on a regular basis. Like any other field, prospects were quite bleak, so I chose a different path, and spent some time in the family business. There was also another issue that would have been problematic had I chosen a culinary career at the time - my vegetarianism.