Saturday, 23 October 2010

Profit may not be a dirty word, but Profiterole is

After the highs of Beast day there was only one direction in which to travel and I took it - first class, high speed and face first.

The curse of pastry came back with a vengeance, this time choux pastry made up for its more conventional cousins. Actually the choux pastry was not the real problem it made it cooked, it had a hole made in it to let out steam and crisped up nicely. But the pastry was only the start of the dish. Then came Creme Patisserie, then Chantilly cream to mix with the Creme Pat. then came piping it in through the previously made hole and then came making a chocolate sauce to cover the plate of sugar dusted cream filled pastries.

Whilst others effortlessly made towering skyscrapers of crisp but melting unctuous cream filled perfect pastry shells
my creme patisserie when combined with the cream made a filling so runny that it poured out of the piping bag before it could be introduced to the pastry. I admit that I had to borrow some from another, and clearly talented, student to complete the dish. Then I managed to dust the sorry ensemble with caster rather than icing sugar leaving it looking as though it had been pebbledashed by a shortsighted labourer. The borrowed chocolate sauce made it half presentable

but I did not bother finding out the score.

Then we had an unexpected load of Strawberry Jam to make. This passed without incident but took up lots of time, time I could ill afford as Mrs K had made the trip over to see me for one night before heading back to Wales and thence to babysit in England.

Eventually I joined her for lunch and then she attended the afternoon Demo which concentrated on her two favourite dishes another 30 ways with Lamb (stewed in diverse ways) and salad. As possibly the world's leading microwaved Jacket Potato cook I never did divine how much she learned from the Demo or how much she would actually cook at home.

In honour of her making the long, and some might suggest over generous trip I felt the need to reciprocate some way, so we went to the Castlemartyr Resort Hotel. It was without doubt the most luxurious I have ever entered let alone stayed in. Touch screens everywhere, walk in showers that would fit a football team, individual lighting for the bath!!
The cost was reasonable for such an experience but I was glad that I had already booked Pizza for our dinner. Breakfast was superb. Whilst I worked my way through grilled liver with mushroom, tomato and saute potatoes Mrs K had herbed potato crepes with smoked salmon. This was a departure from her usual Full Irish and 10 tons of toast and is because she is pleased with her significant weight loss over the period in which I have not been feeding her.

Now if I say good effort, it shows, keep it up I will be in trouble and may not get collected at the end of the course. If, on the other hand I state that I did not notice I am equally unlikely to be collected. So I will settle for you still look lovely, and pray.

The day did not end entirely smoothly. After weeks of sun beating down from deep blue sky, late swallows still having one for the road and the occasional impala skittering through the Ballymaloe gardens I advised Mrs K that the weekend would be fine. Dressed in her summer finest, only two jumpers and a body warmer, she got caught in a massive monsoon just as we left the car for a pizza and was still squelching some hours later as we got back to the hotel.

The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft aglae as Rabbie Burns said. Bill you bas***d as Mrs K said

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Frankie Valli meets Iron Maiden

It was  a beast of a day. Two straightforward dishes, but with multiple techniques and stages, and a late lecture, another 11 hour day.And I had a duty after lunch as well.

On paper a tuna pasta salad looks simple. But add in making the dressing, substituting ingredients and hunting missing ones and it was a labour of love. Similarly a chilli con carne is something thrown together in minutes, or not. Start by making the Colorado sauce that will provide the heat, cutting huge chunks of chump steak down to the  recipe level then dicing. Next make the salsa, chop the onions and shallots, dice the pepper etc and then think about presentation bit harder than opening a can of Stagg's Chilli or adding Tabasco to mince.

Then came today's bonus event, filleting a flat fish. One plaice neatly divided in four later, and several rather good profiteroles later I got back to cooking eventually turning out my allotted dishes. Full of profiterole I decided to skip lunch thus saving me from doing more than just tasting the aforementioned pasta and chilli though I did manage a glass or two of lemonade.

The Weigh Up Room returned to near pristine condition I hurried to Demo  for a presentation by the excellent and inspiring Ardsallagh Goats cheese producers and subsequently to see Rachel produce a range of goat cheese goodies and a couple of fish dishes as well as more exciting things to do with choux pastry. This means that I will be making it tomorrow in its baked rather than deep fried form. Also I have to make brown bread.

In the course of demonstrating this afternoon Rachel got to dismember a Monkfish, Midge look away now.

Demo over we had our extra lecture - Sherry (hence Frankie Valli). This under rated and definitely under priced beverage has a 3,000 year history and served correctly can be a delight and we are not talking about the bottle my parents opened in 1950 and still hand out thimble fulls from at Christmas. We tasted three types and this was just a warm up for the real tasting which will accompany "Tapas Day" next week.

So where is the reference to Iron Maiden and why did I have a beast of a day?

Amazingly my three dishes Pasta, Chilli and Salsa scored a perfect 6,6,6 (the number of the beast),  all together now "I lived alone dum dum dum dum My head etc" so for posterity and bragging rights, here they are.

And I enjoyed my minor moment of success that I decided to toast myself with Sherry.

Tomorrow's blog will probably appear on Saturday as Mrs K is making the long trip over and much as I love you , dear readers, I will be spending time with her rather than my keyboard.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Cooking - the books updated version

The brevity of yesterday's blog may have shocked some, after all why use one word when 23 will do? Actually there were two reasons for the scant report. Firstly I went shopping and then for a meal and secondly when I returned the server was undergoing maintainance and I could not upload photos. So here's the amended version.

The only problem with blogging on a daily basis is some days are "No News" days, and yet you will expect a blog. Well Wednesday was one of those days. Usually we have lectures on a Wednesday which revolve around food or wine so there is something to show you. Today was all about business. Ho hum I hear you sigh. And so did I dear reader, so did I.

Actualy it turned out to be both interesting and iluminating. The business side of establishing a catering operation was explained with full reference to the law, health and safety, regulation etc. Sounds dull but not so. The main thing which we learned was that, like a Windows computer, any catering operation is Menu driven.

This determines how big a kitchen you need what storage facilities, how many staff, etc etc.

All good stuff, but  not very photogenic. Even lunch did not rate a photo, which is unusual.

Lunch over we returned to interesting discussions and worked on three case studies to identify business strengths and weaknesses, possible ways forward and what we learned from the studies. Photos of students studying follow:

A day that promised a little learning but delivered a lot.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Life's a Beach

Sometimes you can peak too early I thought as I headed for the school across the dew soaked lawns at 7:30 this morning.Yesterday after the triumph of the three strand plaited loaf I announced that I would tackle the technically difficult five strand today. Could I get anywhere near a repeat? Had I shot my bolt? Would you - unlike the bread- be taking the rise?

The only way to stand a chance was to involve as much technology as I could. So, on the way to the kitchen I turned on the warming and fermenting cupboard before heading for the ingredients and the excellent Mr Ken Wood (actually he was the eponymous inventor of fine culinary gadgetware).

 Dough made and kneaded, mainly by hand (after Mr K gave me a head start) and resting at a perfect 27 degrees a temperature loved by yeast (and me) I could turn to the day's cooking. First some interesting raw apple muffins - tick baking on the list. These had the most technique of my day's dishes and took longest  -well not if rising dough twice is included. Thrust into an oven at 7x the heat enjoyed by yeast they rose and browned impressively as the apple intensified in sweetness and the raisins and walnuts transformed.

Then the easy one making muesli by combining lots of different grains, fruits and nuts. The difficulty would be in getting it to taste good, and i a world where every dish is graded sufficiently different to give it an Ooh! factor. The reading and interpretation of small print is one of those things that I have done for a living for years so careful study of the recipe and a more careful inspection of the weigh up area next to our kitchen. Hmm one possible alternative ingredient in the recipe and not one to be  found in the weigh up area. Banking that no-one else would have included the alternative I made my way to the central larder.

"You have included Cashews in this, are they in the recipe as no one else has" Yes look  here. "That's delicious" Broad grin on trainee Escoffier.

Next up Breakfast. We each had to cook the perfect breakfast according to a strict formula. Sausage cooked in a medium pan and browned all over, Bacon one back rasher one streaky in a hot pan, crispy and with any fat removed in the pan with a kitchen paper swab, black and white pudding in a low pan heated through but not crispy, tomato and mushroom oven baked and seasoned, egg cooked on minimal heat in clarified butter and no colouring to the white, garnish of your choice.There was to be a prize in each kitchen for the best breakfast. My garnish of perfectly golden triangles of fried bread could not compete with the kidneys and toast added by a competitor so, in a hissy fit I ate it before I could take a photo.

Meanwhile back at the bread yeast had woken and pushed the dough into a soft and glistening pillow oozing that fresh bread smell. Time to get to work. Knocking down and resting over two rolls were made, the remaining dough divided equally onto five strands and we were ready for some serious grain based origami before returning for the second rise.

Just as it finished the second rise and went into the oven Darina announced that the tides were perfect, lunch had been completed early and we were all going to hunt Periwinkles on Garryvoe beach. Our leader duly gave inspirational advice on foraging, seaweeds and how to amuse young children on the beach.

Some of her advice duly wore off and after a trek that made the escape of the Israelites from Egypt look like a Sunday afternoon stroll

 some serious winkling began

These tasty little morsels , best served with vinegar and pepper on Saaaarfend Pier would make a timely but cooked appearance in the Demo which featured flatfish, and to which we were hastened back.

One of the followers of the blog has complained about some graphic images driving her towards vegetarianism so there will be no images of fish being flayed to the bone with a sharp knife or how Dover Sole can be skinned whole before being filleted unlike most fish where it is the other way around. So instead here's a picture of two fluffy kittens playing with a ball of wool.

Oh come on! You didn't believe me did you.

Still, no images of fish being harmed or turned into tasty goujons wrapped in a spiced flour and deep fried. The other dishes demoed included chilli con carne, provencal bean stew, a tuna salad and 1000 things to do with choux pastry. No cooking tomorrow Lectures Day!!

Oh Yes, the bread. Just before Demo I was able to get back to the kitchen and retrieve it.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Bread and Breakfast

Week 5 they tell us is the hardest for most students. The pace quickens, techniques should be ingrained and the exams loom next week. Awkward as ever I had my best day in the Kitchen. Only two dishes to cook, one with a pastry so difficult to handle that it takes two hours in the fridge to get to a rollable state, and the other a Piperonata that takes some prep and then a long slow cook.

First the pastry and today for the first time we did not have to hand cream butter sugar and eggs before adding the flour slowly, we were allowed to use machinery!! Within minutes the Magimix was creaming butter and sugar, eggs were being added followed by flour and 10 minutes later the pastry was ready for chilling. Now even with a machine I had severe doubts. Pastry has been my enemy since the start of the course and a look at the golden, stick pile in the bowl suggested that today was like any other day. With a spatula and a great degree of trepidation I eased it between two sheets of clingfilm,and put it in the fridge with a label on. Usually this is so that war does not break out as everyone tries to steal the product of the best pastry maker. In my case it is so that everyone can snigger accurately at the poor pile in the fridge.
Oh well, on to the Piperonata.

(note plastic covered recipe sheet)

Onions sliced, garlic crushed, peppers diced and tomatoes peeled they went into a Le Creuset casserole on a very low heat to sweat down and meld into a glorious vegetable melange that can be used as a side dish, a vegetable or the basis of a good sauce or stock, not to mention a vegetarian pizza topping. The secret here is long slow cooking over a very low heat.

The first time that I ever cooked at Ballymaloe was about 10 years or so ago and I stood in Kitchen 2 at the blue station cooking Piperonata. The gas jet that I needed would not work properly, it fired up like a jet engine or just would not work at all, so much for long slow cooking, even a heat diffuser produced a temperature at which garlic burnt. Today I stood in Kitchen 2 at the blue station cooking Piperonata and the bloody gas jet still did not work!!

My ever helpful teacher Annette saved the day by placing double diffusers on another jet and, when I laughingly told her about my first ever experience of Ballymaloe went off to ring the engineer to get it sorted by tomorrow.

So two down or works in progress and I still had one and a half hours before the pastry could be looked at.

White yeast bread immediately sprung to mind. Flour, yeast salt, sugar, butter later I embarked on approximately 30 minutes of kneading to achieve the correct consistency to yeast. Curse you Gluten! I thought before remembering that non-gluten flours take even longer at which stage the long chain molecule became a demi god in my culinary pantheon. Kneading over the dough went off for a little sojourn in the warming cabinet before emerging to be knocked back, shaped and (like the South ) rise again.

Stunningly the pastry emerged from the chiller with greater structural integrity than I could hope for, or believed possible. Rapidly rolled into a flan tin, given the mandatory Ballymaloe flange, filled with coarse cut Bramleys and a little sugar, studded with cloves, it was covered egg washed, decorated and returned to the chiller.

Unfortunately both the bread and pie were now destined to cook concurrently and for periods which would entail lunch time. Of course I was allowed to shoot off for lunch provided that I returned to check on progress and present my dishes for scrutiny. The Piperonata is nice but did not really deserve a photo on its own so here it is shown with the rest of lunch.

On my return the pie was ready, and although cut fresh from the oven - which weakens the pastry - it still looked and more importantly tasted good.

By now I had to dash off to Demo which today was about all aspects of breakfast, cooked, vegetarian, healthy, boring, juices and smoothies, breads, toasts, buns, muffins, fish etc. We will be cooking breakfast for lunch tomorrow and there is a prize in each kitchen for the best breakfast. Apparently I am not allowed to send for a takeaway Frankie and Benny New England Breakfast, so I will just have to compete.

Oh yes, just before I had to dash off we opened the oven to reveal the breads. On which happy point I will leave you.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sloe-ly does it

Sunday brought the communal meal which much preparation had been done yesterday, but it also brought the need to actually do the tasks which had been successfully sidelined, the filing and ironing.
Filing seemed the lesser of two evils so the bed was soon covered in recipes waiting to be categorised, alphabetised and slipped into plastic folders before being put into the relevant ring binder. Plastic folders are essential a) to save having to punch holes in hundreds of sheets of paper and b) because they can only enter the kitchen if suitably protected from spillages etc.

Only plastic wrapped paper in the kitchen is one of the cardinal rules here, along with No Clay in the Kitchen. Both make sense plastic sheathing for the reason set out above and no clay because you would not want to introduce mud into a clean kitchen. After the usual dilemmas does Yorkshire Pudding go under Breads and Batters or Accompaniments (and where the hell do Pigs in Blankets go?) some kind of order broke out in the filing department and I had little alternative to the ironing.
At this stage coffee seemed to be a sensible alternative and was duly taken, twice. Thus with my autonomic nervous system a-jangle I headed to the utility room. The great god Persil was smiling on me though as the washer and dryer were both on. This may not seem significant but when both are on and the iron takes an additional toll on the wiring system in the utility room the fuses trip and every wall socket in the house goes down. A responsible person, therefore, would not wish to inflict electrical Armageddon on their colleagues and would postpone their ironing. I was VERY responsible and went for lunch.
Returning later I found that the ‘processe de lavage’ had ended and the ironing awaited. Now I have to admit that I have improved my skills in this area. No longer do my whites suggest that I sleep in them every night, now they look as though they were previously worn by one of those pug type dogs with all the rolls of skin and wrinkles. But the cuffs are always really sharply creased so the overall effect when an apron is worn is acceptable.
Warming up on a couple of cheap shirts, (the kind that are meant to be worn rumpled and which are cheap enough to bin if iron shaped holes suddenly appear in them) I tackled the mighty whites and vanquished them – well to the best of my (strictly limited) abilities.
I was now free for the day, or at least till I had to prep the Risotto. What to do?
Answer, make Sloe Gin!! They are big on foraging here at Ballymaloe so when the sloes grow in your own backyard it would be criminal not to use them and, since they are free and in season it would be criminal for you, dear reader, not to either.So simple as well. Wash 1lb sloes, put in jar with 4oz sugar and top up with gin. Shake daily for two weeks then once a week for another month then leave as long as you can bear. Needs a minimum 10-12 weeks though ours will be tested earlier as we will all be going home.

Updates on the gin as time goes by.

Finally time to cook the Risotto using crab meat donated after a Demo last week. Bit concerned as this is in many ways my signature dish. All went well and all enjoyed it.

WE also had a very good Winter Pudding, basically a Summer Pudding but made with Cake not bread and with a bias toward Blueberries. Lovely thank you Jean.

Now knackered and time to get some sleep before a full on cook tomorrow.