Saturday, 2 October 2010

Saturday Night's all right

Somehow the Ryder Cup weather transferred to East Cork and the day consisted of scattered showers, some of monsoon proportion, but all less than 20 minutes long.

A great day to do the washing and filing. Arising at the crack of breakfast the rushed weekday bowl of healthy muesli transformed into leisurely rashers and eggs and the four espressos into eight. Thoroughly fortified I faced the day. With both washing machine and dryer working it was time to face the filing.

Each day up to 15 recipes are handed out and demonstrated. This makes perfect sense in a demo as they are all related and comprise a complete three course meal. It is when they have to be filed away that the fun begins. Six recipes for lamb and a chart of edible bits makes sense - file under lamb. But then it is served with french beans and steamed potatoes - file under vegetables, and a borlotti bean and tomato fondue side dish, Tomato fondue is technically a sauce whereas borlotti beans are pulses.I referred earlier to the KGB style cross referencing required to stay on top of the filing, and the printing of recipes back to back complicates matters further yet,
Oh how two and a half hours flew by as I wrestled with the logic of filing, and the weather outside varied from Sahara to Atlantis.

Now, Ballymaloe is nothing if not great on foraging and obtaining ingredients for free. So the next task was to identify spare and suitable twigs and small branches for lighting the cottage fire, logs being supplied on a regular basis.  This also afforded an opportunity to identify sites containing edible and gratis produce such as

No prizes for calculating Pie or Crumble for those two, but some are more tricky but still free and good quality such as

Yes the first ones are Sloes, and we are doubly blessed as the recipe for Sloe Gin was handed out during the week and they grow in the cottage garden. Bad news though the Gin would not be ready until after we have gone home. And the second is |lemon Scented Geranium, a useful addition to Lemonade or as a gentle sharpener in salads.

As dusk fell it was clear that I would have clean clothes for another week, there would be living flame in the grate this evening, my filing was done if not entirely retrievable and  I was hungry and tired. Still Sunday is the day of rest - but not here

Friday, 1 October 2010

Fission Friday

October broke as only October in Cork can, bright skies, sun and moon both visible and the prospect of another balmy weekend. Just Friday to get through.

By 8:15 we were in our kitchens weighing up - and not just ingredients. Who would we work with next week? in which Kitchen? what unexpected bonus event or demo would be sprung on us today? In the event most of the answers were not forthcoming until after lunch so more of that later.

But first Rachel who has had to put up with me all week wanted a photo of us together. Probably so that her relatives could take out a contract, but it was a nice idea anyway so for those of wondering what we look like here's the evidence. Rachel is not the fat bloke with a beard just to prevent confusion.

Then serious cooking. Within minutes bread was made and in the oven, beetroot were beginning their 2 hour hot bath (NB about half the time that Mrs K can spend in a hot bath, but beetroot don't take a glass of wine and a good book with them) and peppers were blistering on a grill.

AS the totally charred peppers slid into a film covered bowl -to sweat and make peeling them easier- Rachel and I made a discovery, we were both cooking one dish, so somewhere communication had broken down and we would be one dish short. Fortunately this did not appear to be a problem, and the arrival of freshly made bread (of good aroma, texture and colour) sufficiently distracted our teacher for our little faux-pas to be forgiven though we might have to wait for our final results to see whether it was forgotten.

The beetroot continued to bathe whilst Rachel went through the many phases of making the Lemon Meringue Tart that was to be dessert and I randomly slashed at innocent vegetables, grated assorted cheeses and prepared cholesterol enhancing infusions of cream, butter and more of each again.

Just a s we were comfortable and confident that we would deliver on time the day's unexpected event. Mackerel for everyone to practice their filleting!!!!! Since I was to cook a gratinated Cod dish this was good news, I could practice on something smaller and cheaper. Within moments the kitchen looked like the set of a slasher movie as chefs with knife skills closer to Freddie Kruger than Christian Barnard flailed at small pieces of marine life with the aim of removing flesh from bone.

Now the more observant amongst you - or anyone who stayed awake to the end - would have noted the "Darina Allen filleting face" as demonstrated in yesterday's blog, and our intent to practice hard to emulate our guru gastronomique.  As they say on all the best TV shows, "Audience it's up to you"

Some of us cooked the tattered ribbons of flesh which had once been proud denizens of the deep. Luckily a deep covering of cheddar cheese, Dijon mustard and cream masked the fish and, browned in the oven, gave the impression of healthy and nutritious foods such as might grace a maharajah's table.

Excitement over we went to lunch having racked up some pretty good technique and taste points.

Next up we discovered our new partners and kitchens for next week My commiserations to Sarah but I did notice Rachel dancing with joy as I was not only moved away from her but to another kitchen  Will Sarah  do the same on October 8th?

Excitement over we headed for the Demo  - my favourite Lamb - where Rory who had obviously missed out on the blade bonanza of the morning butchered a juvenile sheep into totally inedible chunks of meat and cooked them. Others who like the stringy fatty animal may disagree with my particular stand point and find it well textured and unctuous. Well, we are all equally entitled to our opinion but it's my blog-  so I spent some time negotiating the cooking of all things scrawny and yet, strangely greasy, with Sarah.

Monday's lunch will be interesting a little salad? a slice of bread? Maybe a smuggled Ginsters Pasty and a bar of choccy? Hell pull yourself together man its only sheep eat it and enjoy a few days on sick leave.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Harry Ramsden your time is coming

Thursday and the torture of the seating was replaced by the terror of cooking. Not for us the hours of vital information giving, no we were to demonstrate that some at least, had sunk in and rooted. It was a game of two halves early triumph being washed away on a tide of hot sugar, but a good win by full time

Early doors it was the White Soda Bread that scored with a good rise and texture and a good hollow sound to boot.

Next up: the Creme Caramel. Now, the Creme part was easy, infusing milk with vanilla and making a custard. It was the caramel that proved tricky. So hard in fact that it took three attempts. Eventually it was the right chestnutty hue to be combined with the custard and banished to a moderate oven for 35 minutes in a bain-marie.

That clear chicken thighs needed to be boned and sliced into finger sized pieces whilst we were advised not to slice fingers into the dish. An exotic combination of 10 spices and other ingredients were combined into an aromatic sauce and heated before the chicken slid in with lemon juice and water. 35 minutes or so of cooking produced what loooked and smelt like a good dish.

In the interim, however, the recalcitrant caramels had returned from their little bathe and were cooling. Now I had been asked to add my final caramel to the communal dish and did not have enough to make the accompanying sauce. Probably a shrewd move by the teacher as it meant that the combination of napalm like hot sugar and cold water was nottaking place within a reasinable safety margin of my workstation. But, big drawback I had to make caramel shards and do some sugarwork for presentation. Whilst others drew intricate filligree lattices of golden sugar my efforts looked more like Jackson Pollock had only been issued with one colour and told to get on with it. Good effort said the teacher in the kind of voice reserved for the sad kid in the corner, but it was good enough to get to lunch in public. Oh yes and the Creme Caramel itself scored a chart topping 6.

Meanwhile my partner for the week, Rachel had been working away at rice so I borrowed some of hers to present the spiced chicken. One of the best decalred the teacher. It may have been because when Rachel and I tasted it after it was assessed we kept eating more so there is no photo as there was no dish left to picture.

|lunch intervened and we moved into the Demo. Much of this was tocover fish so guess what we will be cooking tomorrow including gratinated cod and cod en papillotte:

but this is Ballymaloe so the cod does not come neatly filleted. No an introduction to fish, buying, gutting and preparation meant that a filleting demo had to be given and we were told that if sufficient mackerel were landed tomorrow we could all practice. (NB mackerel is half the price of cod so expensive filleting errors - remember the chickens? - would not take place.

The usual range of accompanying dishes were shown and tasted before we all went off to plan and prepare, especially the maniacal glare that is de rigeur for filliter.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Cheese and Wine

No, not a party but Wednesday lectures, an integral part of the course.

But first (loud Fanfare) "Biscuit of the Week". Alright they happened to be cakes this week with many variations on a common theme but the idea is to introduce something each week which could form part of  a menu, provide a tasty treat or give you a commodity to sell at Farmers Markets or the like. Today was based around Madeira cake, baked low in a Swiss Roll tin, and covered with different toppings - Lemon Crunch, Coffee and pecan nut icing, jam and coconut etc.before being cut into squares.
Next up the main event.

Using milk from the cows donated fresh that morning, and less than 1 hour old, we got an insight into making butter cheese and yoghurt. But first the milk had to be separated into milk and cream.

Then, using no more than a Kenwood Chef, a sieve, cold water and a pair of butter hands (pats) the cream was converted to butter and butter milk. Apparently from now on the butter accompanying bread for lunch will be rounded into perfect butter balls by designated duty students. We also learned to identify salted and unsalted  butters by marking one.

Butter is one of the new buzz foods and well packaged and provenanced butter can command a large premium over generic creamery product. Butter makers could be the new wave of artisan cheese makers, so another potential career opportunity.

Then on to cheese and yoghurt all sorts were made or at least started with Paneer, Semi Hard, Cottage and Ricotta cheeses being started or made and packaged, and Yoghurt being demonstrated before our very eyes. Once made the yoghurt was converted into tasty desserts, raitas and other commercial opportunities. Life here at Ballymaloe mainly consists of preparing us for life after Balliymaloe, and in particular ensuring that we can earn a living from food. Now that we are expert chicken jointers the Colonel's call cannot be far away.

Then off to lunch. As ever this was another learning opportunity. Whatever the rights and wrongs of its production, and I do not believe that Ballymaloe would use unethical products, Veal was at the centrepiece along with the usual range of salads, sauces and dips, breads and cheeses and fresh veg. today featuring potatoes, carrots, squash and Swiss Chard.

Then I noticed a disturbing tendency to start each paragraph with "Then", this will not be repeated in future. A quick reappraisal of the use of Then at the start of a paragraph was beaten numerically by the number of times that the Ramones began a song 1-2-3-4 (actually every song).

The Wine lecture had been looming closer and was now inevitable and unavoidable. A morning of sitting in lectures had left my buttocks feeling as if they had ridden a horse from John O'Groats to Lands End, and this afternoon would not improve the situation. Wine really is beyond me so after the first 20 minutes, and the first tasting, my head was in a similar condition to my bum.

Three and a half hours and six wines later it was finally possible to pack away the lecture notes and helpful wine book and leave. Quite why we have to know so much and have an exam on the subject I do not know. The notes handed out by the lecturer state with, I suspect, unintended irony "Don't be afraid of wine, at the end of the day it is a drink. It is a personal choice for you just as with food, art, clothes or music. Go with what you like. Your opinion on any given wine is as valuable as anyone else's". I fit is only a drink and the opinion of the individual is totally valid WHY do we have to spend 15 hours in lectures and suffer endless mindless DVDs and tastings of industrial cleanser?

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

It's pastry Jim, but not as we know it

After yesterday's alchemy with the tart it seemed only sensible to count my blessings and rejoice in the fact that I had only a tomato puree and a Rhubarb Crumble to produce today.

HA!! There was no rhubarb so it was an apple crumble with Doh!! a pastry base. This time the Ballymaloe recipe of flour, sugar, butter and egg was not going to cause me a problem. They say that for pastry to succeed everything has to be cool. Certainly not this maker over the last couple of attempts, but today the ingredients had no chance, my icy fury at mediocrity and having back to back pastry dishes would fuel the making. This time it rolled out well and, by giving it 5 minutes in the freezer not 15 in the fridge, the pastry was lulled into a state of suspended animation for long enough to bury it under as small mountain of apple flour sugar and almonds. Success!

That icy fury flowing through my veins also meant that the chicken which we had to joint stood no chance. Within seconds his/her wishbone was lying on the board and dismemberment of legs breasts and wings rapidly followed. Our noble leader was shocked at the amount of tattered flesh still clinging to bones but that was more at the waste of first class organic ingredients rather than or less than surgical approaches.

(not actual image)
The tomato puree was also good though I had little time to try it as I had duties to perform in the Dining Room like handing out main courses, polishing cutlery and relaying tables.

Then into the Demo where we entered the wonderful world of the Aubergine (cooked 3 ways) chicken done another 2 and assorted raitas and THE way to boil rice. Guess we will be having a chicken and aubergine based lunch on Thursday.

No "bonus" lecture today but even so some random Italian wine producer called by and the Ballymaloe House Sommelier told us that we would be sampling her products on the Wine Course.

A brief roundup of the days Demo followed :-

before we left.

Lectures all day tomorrow, Biscuit of the week, Cheese and Youghurt making and Wine. Another day of agony in the Chair if Dr Cagliari.

A Random Car Crash of Almonds

Back to school after a weekend away and little had changed. Faces were more familiar and new working partnerships were being forged but the routine and pressures remained the same. Into the kitchen, to weigh up and prep ingredients for today’s competitive cookathon, rode the 600. Similarities to the Light Brigade were, however, limited to the same sense of duty and preparedness to charge on regardless of potential impending doom.
Pastry proved my personal nemesis once more as the shortness of my mixture would have taken first prize  in a limbo competition. However with careful nurture and a benign oven it did hold together during blind baking and eggwash, would it hold the mixture though - or spring leaks like the average government department.
An amalgam of Gruyere, Egg, Cream Parmesan, Dill and seasoning was slipped into the warm case with great care and several deeply meant prayers and, 35 minutes later a total metamorphosis had taken place. Gone was the dodgy pastry and the creamy liquid. In its place glistened a sensually soft and golden surface concealing a silky smooth custard in which the main note was cheese though spices melded through to produce pure ummami!! The less said about the accompanying bread the better.

Unlike last Friday, when many of us wondered whether we could even get a cooking job at McDonalds, today a jaunty spring in the step bounced us into lunch and the assembled mass ranks of variations on Tomato Soup, Tarts both Cheese and Crab and ice creams or popsicles in either Strawberry or Raspberry.
Lunch over we headed for the Demo to meet the “Producers of the Week” not Mel Blanc but two very nice local farmers. Ten minutes later Rory O’Connor lead into tomorrows menu with a demonstration of jointing a chicken. A challenge to do this in under three minutes had to be called off when it emerged that he had the only defrosted chicken in the school.
A Crunchy Crumble Topped Apple Tart followed where Rory produced the headline to this blog, advising us to have a clear plan for chopping almonds for the “crunch” element not just to have a random almond car crash.
Assorted things to do with tomatoes hot and cold and in various states of existence, solid, liquid, plasma etc was followed by the A to Z of courgette dishes and a potato boiling lesson. And’ before we have any silly comments about Irish cuisine, these were done in sea water to demonstrate how salty these fine vegetables like to be when cooking.

Normally after the tasting we are free to go but not tonight. Oh no, tonight we were treated to an hour and a half on the delights of wines from Bordeaux, or at least those of a particular producer with copious samples of their particular variants on Listerine.

Frankly a two hour video of paint drying might have ranked higher on the entertainment front and, as a non oenophone I suspect that there is one exam that I will not be passing.
I do, however need to be examined by a chiropractor, five and a half hours in the Demo kitchen chairs appears to have welded my sacroiliac to my sternum or whatever the technical name for numb bum is. Roll on Wednesday when we have all day lectures!!!!
Still 11and a half hours further down the yellow brick road, Oz remains the aim.

And On The Seventh Day

APOLOGIES loyal followers, we have had no web access since Saturday so like London busses nothing and then three come along together.

Sunday, the day of rest, a day to be spent with a late breakfast, coffee, a pile of  papers, stroll to the pub, roast dinner with every accompaniment possible, afternoon nap, football on TV and a good refreshing sleep.
Well maybe for some, but not for 12 week students.
THE concession was a cooked breakfast - even this, though, was actually a tasting of assorted free-range pork products from those awfully nice people at Rosscarberry products and a comparison of breads combined with the use of a colour chart to check the organic provenance of the scrambled eggs.

Mmmmm Breakfast

Then it was heads down again.
Over a week of Demos you amass a huge number of recipes and allied paperwork, H&S lecture notes, Fire Prevention advice, the comparative rates of excise duty on wines across the EU, advice on composting, organic gardening etc etc. If this is not to crush you under an avalanche of verbiage an efficient filing system must be devised and implemented.
Initial hilarity at being issued with 4 ring binders, 2 packs of dividers and over 800 plastic pockets turned to relief, and finally to deep despair.
With my own filing idea being marginally less complex than the Dewey Decimal System, I soon realised that I needed more dividers and copies of some recipes if I were to avoid the kind of cross referencing not seen since the KGB and Stasi re-invented themselves as your friendly local police service.
So only proto-filing took place with papers divided into major headings such as Starters, Soups, Breads, Tarts etc. The individual recipes will be filed into the relevant category as received. More general information has gone into the additional binder that I bought before arriving, much relief at that purchase!!!
One and a half hours of filing seemed adequate so with a more cheerful disposition I turned to the matter of laundry. We are well equipped to keep whites etc clean and tidy – can’t risk demerits by appearing as if I was going to work! So after a wash with added whitener and a good tumble drying, I tackled the ironing. It was ironing in the sense that a hot iron was applied to cloth on a purpose built stand thingy but in no other sense of the word. Fortunately aprons cover a multitude of sins or in my case crimes against smoothing and creasing.
With the evidence safely hidden in a wardrobe, an hour of hunt the stick took up much of the remains of the day – or at least afternoon. We have a wonderful open log fire but this requires feeding in the form of kindling.” There’s tons of loose wood and twigs around the farm”, we had been told “You’re welcome to take them home for the fire”. Slave and labour were two words that sprung to mind, but exposure to a balmy afternoon and the prospect of a crackling blaze on a cool evening, combined with that sense of pride in a tidying operation, and a green glow from being environmentally active made even that enjoyable.
So, late in the evening, only the work plan for Monday to be done, and Sunday passed with little opportunity for the “man of wealth and taste” to make work for idle hands to do.
In the immortal words of Samuel Pepys “And so to bed”