Saturday, 6 November 2010

Sour Dough and Welsh Turnover

Though Met Eireann had issued a severe weather warning as we got the tail winds of Hurricane Thomas “The principal dangers from this weather system will be due to very high seas off the southwest and west coast (waves approaching 9m) and coastal flooding due to a combination of high tides, very low pressure, storm surge and onshore winds. The danger period extends through Sunday night and, for the east coast, much of Monday also.” Saturday dawned bright and clear. Much the way that I felt as the evil virus, vanquished by chemicals and sleep left my body in search of a new host.
Arising at the crack of 6:30 to ensure first access to the washing machine I noticed that one of my housemates was missing, or at least her car was. Jean had gone into Cork last evening to do a night shift at Arbutus Bakery, and seemed to have done the whole 12-7 shift although she had indicated that she would come home early if she felt tired. You may recall that we visited Arbutus on the School Trip but obviously whilst it was quiet during the day. Jean would now get the full on Bakery experience. She returned with a gift worth far more than mere money, part of the Arbutus Sourdough Starter!! Immediately we all asked her to get it into a good dough and pass on some to ourselves.
That excitement over I returned to the more mundane issues in life, the weekly battle with the washing and ironing, but with a fair wind and some imitation enthusiasm from myself it was all completed early enough for a sausage sandwich and coffee.
Later, whilst others went out and about, I had the house to myself and Wales Australia to watch on TV. The usual depressing performance, flattering to deceive, left me feeling unfulfilled so I took advantage of the autumnal weather to have a good wander through the gardens.
The late onset of autumn has left a somewhat bizarre mixture of seasons here. Whilst winter crops such as cabbage and carrot are maturing nicely there is still blossom and straggling hedgerow fruit like blackberries in evidence. Further proof of the weird weather was provided by the Wasp that followed me for about 15 minutes.

The School is undergoing a transformation this evening. Rory O’Connell one of our teachers and Darina’s brother is celebrating a significant birthday and 120 guests are coming to dinner. Potted plants now outline a formal avenue to the front door and large, but unlit, braziers will illuminate the path. A bustling hive of activity in anticipation of the event, and one which I avoided as the unwritten policy here is like that of National Service days in the UK -  if it moves give it a job, if it doesn’t,  paint it.
Armed with a few nice autumnal photos I returned to contemplate an evening of laziness though still with the underlying thought ‘must do the filing’.

And finally a chicken trying to blend into the background. Shame he forgot his bright red comb.

Friday, 5 November 2010

From Lem Sip to Lemon Posset

A night of 20 minute naps, followed by 10 minutes awake, improved the situation somewhat and when I eventually rolled downstairs at 7:20 coffee was definitely No1 on the list. A rapid dash to the shops had provided fresh supplies of remedial pharmaceuticals and some (very un Ballymaloe) instant soups so, buoyed up by liquid intake last evening, a distinct upward spiral had begun. My poor housemate Steve had succumbed in the meantime and had to launder his sweat soaked sheets early am.

A couple of students had similar experiences during the week so it looks like a virus is running rampant through the course. Cooking this morning was a non-starter, though continued improvement made an appearance at Demo likely. I need to find my new partner and kitchen/station and find out what will e Mondays culinary challenge - Pastry confined Mousse if I am unlucky, Soup if not!! Luckily I seem to have been poorly bad on the two days that I could best afford it before the end of the course. Next week is week 8 and then just a fortnight later we have to submit the recipes for the final exams which we will cook on either 8th or 9th December. Pressure is mounting and any down time is better now than in the ensuing weeks.

The advantage of 24 hour viruses is that in or around 24 hours you feel better. So, feeling stronger I decided to go up to school for the afternoon Demo. We started with a brief talk by Jeremy Lee who is head chef at the Blueprint Cafe in London and has written about food as well.
Jeremy talked about the importance of provenance and ingredients and also explained that he changes the menu twice a day as fresh ingredients come in, or are used up.

Next we had a demo by Claire Ptak who left Chez Panisse in California to move to London where she runs Violet, a bakery at the front of the Cup Cake movement.

Claire has now moved on to the Whoopie Pie - the new Cup Cake- a cunning sandwhich of sponge and filling. We learned the chocolate marshmallow variety, which I will be cooking on Monday, and also her Lemon and Lemon Curd offering. For those of you who want to be ahead of the trend and show off your baking skills I would suggest her new book

With Darina roasting both a duck and pork she had a chance to show off her knife skills again, and did so though the operation of a Kraft Knife scoring rind for crackling) proved a bit of a challenge. Still the joint was divided and scored and placed into a medium inferno to glaze and crisp for about an hour and a half whilst the duck, stuffed with onion and potato, suffered a similar fate.

They re-emerged for the tasting by which time they had been joined by a soup, mashed parsnip, braised Jerusalem Artichokes, more desserts including Lemon Posset and a Chocolate Mousse which I shall cook on Monday. I shall be cooking this with a vengeance as it does not contain the gelatine which caused the angst yesterday morning - and probably accelerated the onset of illness.

Back up and running, a copule of days rest then into the kitchen for some serious culinoire ( probably no such word but faux francais always looks good on a menu - or blog). As it is the weekend I will reward you all with some chocolate pictures, and for those of you who have never seen them before a couple of Whoopie Pie shots.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sweat at 100 degrees

I awoke with the pains that one associates with increasing age and some strange subterranean rumblings normally attributed to severe lack of food. A healthy bowl of muesli with a banana seemed to confirm that diagnosis as I felt much better - the four cups of espresso may also have something to do with that improvement.

At 8am I was due in the prep kitchen to prepare salad for lunch so, with the sun still cowering beneath the horizon, I set forth across the sodden fields to the School. On my arrival I was the only one in sight, unless you give the two Jack Russells anthropomorphic credibility. By 7:55, however, signs of human activity began and I entered the room ready to select wash and spin dry the leaves that would accompany today's meal. They had yet to arrive from the glasshouse so it was a Honey Mustard dressing that captured my full attention. Do you realise how much dressing is required for 70+ salads? Well over a pint is the answer so the first whisking of the day commenced whilst others selected the finest, freshest leaves to fill the two huge bowls.

Once over I headed to my station ready to start the morning's cooking but something was not right. My sinuses were blocked solid whilst the muesli appeared to be fermenting enthusiastically. Oh well let's get started. A Chocolate Mousse was first up. Hours of whisking, the mousse of eggs and sugar, egg whites, cream. Chocolate had to be melted with dark Rum over a pan of boiling water and gelatine sponged. Now at home I use leaf gelatine but Ballymaloe uses powder, sponged in cold water and then stood in a pan of hot water to melt.

Mousse en Place

Today the gelatine would not behave either developing a skin or setting solid. Despite heroic attempts at a retrieval by the teacher I had no recourse other than to re-do it. In the meantime the cream, egg whites and mousse had started to deflate and the chocolate to set. More whisking and reheating of chocolate. The souffle bowl into which the mousse would be poured had to have a collar of paper placed around it to provide for the mousse to come an inch above the bowl itself. Fun and games with paper and string ensued and by the time that the collar was fitted and greased the cream, egg whites and mousse had started to deflate and the chocolate to set. More whisking and reheating of chocolate. The gelatine meanwhile had begun to develop a skin!

We had, however, reached the point at which the mix was coming together regardless. Careful mixing and folding produced a chocolate coloured semi liquid which should set in a fridge so into the souffle bowl. Quite why we had wrestled with the paper collar is beyond me. The mousse did not quite fill the bowl and the paper collar stood high, proud and virginally untouched. Into the fridge, even though there was no chance of irit setting by lunch.

I was by this time all hot and bothered, not because the mousse was somewhat recalcitrant, but because I was genuinely suffering. This was not incipient Man Flu but a general clamminess with spinning rooms and the possibility of the muesli becoming a Mexican Gulf oil rig situation. It was only right to leave the kitchen before a nasty occurrence, so at 11 am I cleared down and left.

I walked back to the cottage, gulping in fresh air and appreciating the cooling effect of the light drizzle, got in, swallowed a lemsip and promptly fell asleep. Now Ballymaloe looks after students and around 2pm my phone woke me to tell me that there was a text. "Lunch at front door" was the message. I headed downstairs, opened the door and found a cling filmed bowl. I don't know who cooked the Red Thai Beef Curry with Rice and accompanying veg but it was a) lovely and b) a lifesaver. One of my favourite 'do or die' cures is a Prawn Madras and this curry met that criteria head on.

Briefly I blogged and then headed back to the arms of Lethe ( note to Mrs K - this is a Greek mythological allusion not the name of any student or local resident). Tomorrow - who knows?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

From Fermoy to Fenugreek

Autumn had set in this morning, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness started without the mists but a distinct feel to the air and autumnal colours breaking out.

The school was quiet this morning, Wednesdays mean lectures so no early morning rush to get Mise en Place sorted or do the many early morning duties. A leisurely cup of coffee and a rehashing of the exam results filled the time till 9 when the day began. We always start with the Biscuit of the Week - this week Millionaires Shortbread - then onto the Cheese Lecture.

This week Frank Shinnick who makes cheese in Fermoy with his wife Gudrun came in to demonstrate his cheeses and answer a wide range of questions.

They produce a range of cheeses all from Raw milk:

St. Gall is a hard cheese, wheel shaped and weighs approximately 5kg. It is a natural rind cheese. Young St. Gall is springy in texture with a mild milky flavour, but as the cheese ages up to eight months and beyond it develops a yeasty bite that gently stings the palate. It is a good cooking cheese as it keeps its flavour well when melted.

St. Brigid is a loaf shaped, semi hard cheese and weighs approximately 3kg. Its mild creamy flavour has made it a hit with young and old alike. It is also a natural rind cheese. It looks well on a cheeseboard for discerning dinner guests and goes down a treat in school lunch boxes.

Cais Dubh is a hard cheese wheel with a black rind. It weighs approximately 5kg. It obtained a silver medal at the recent World Cheese Awards. It is also available with Fenugreek. Cais Dubh with Fenugreek won the gold medal award for flavoured cheese at the World Cheese Awards.

Cais Rua is a soft smear ripened cheese with a red/orange rind. It weighs approximately 2.5kg.

Hibernia is an extra mature one year old cheese. It weighs approximately 12kg. Cheese connoisseurs enjoy the mature flavours this cheese offers. Unfortunately it availability is limited.

Frank spent a good hour with us, passing round several cheeses and leaving even more for a later tasting.

Previously Timmy had popped in to give us an update on the Sourdough Starter which had been started last week. Now named Freddie the starter was ready to be sponged prior to baking and, with a small amount retained Freddie was destined for eternal life, some American sourdoughs are 140 years old. Once risen the loaf will be cooked and shared as an incentive to us all to make our own starters and eat sourdough bread for the rest of our lives.

The rest of the morning was taken up with lectures on preserving and freezing, making herb oils and vinegars and also on potential career choices after Ballymaloe, not just confined to cooking. Food writing was a possibility said Darina and she knew that some of us were blogging which was a great start to such a career!!

Lunch did feature Lamb again but there was a range of salads and vegetable dishes as alternatives as well as Shrimp. I was pleased to enjoy a soup and main course making this the biggest meal that I have eaten at lunch for some time.

Lunch over we returned for a lecture on Spices. This was delivered by Arun Kapil a Ballymaloe graduate who now runs Green Saffron importing spices direct from India. Not only does he have a stall in Midleton and other Farmers Markets but he also makes bespoke spice mixes for the likes of Richard Corrigan and other top chefs. On a recent visit to the market with Janet we bought a selection of spices for our son Dafyd who is well into his curries- the USP of Green Saffron being that they give recipes to support the spice mixes that they sell.

It was a real pleasure to handle spices that have been in India less than eight weeks ago, unlike most in the UK which have been warehoused in Bristol for up to three years. Vanilla in particular was a revelation, the pods long and fat, soft and absolutely aromatic. I think that in future If I can't get Arun's vanilla - luckily he does mail order- I shall use organic vanilla extract rather than the wizened dry sticks that until today I thought the height of culinary luxury.

Anil certainly changed my mind on spice use and his gingerbread which he passed round tasted better than any I have ever eaten with his wide range of spices, stem ginger and four types of sugar each of which added their own recognisable characteristics.
Finally Darina spoke on Menu planning which is, you will recall, the major driver for any food related enterprise. Oh yes and just as we got over the exams we were handed the content of the three written exams and the practical. Focusing your mind or what?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Man v Pastry III - a good result

October was, the radio announced this morning, the sunniest October for 40 years. November was seeking revenge, an occluded front in the  Atlantic sent heavily gusting winds to rattle the windows and blow leaves around like a snow storm, but the rain held off.

The walk to School gave chance to reflect upon the last six weeks and the need to "up the game" for the next six, truly this was a game of two halves and we did not yet know the half time score. Today I would cook three dishes, a French Peasant Soup, A Beetroot and Baby Spinach Salad and a Besancon Apple Tart. My chopping and dicing skills would be tested to the extreme whilst the battle of Man v Pastry would go into another round with Pastry definitely ahead on points.

First the pastry was tackled, flour, icing sugar, butter and an egg yolk were combined smothered in cling film and put into the fridge to chill for at least an hour. On then to the chopping fest- bacon, onions, tomatoes, potato all peeled and diced before being sweated off and then combined with stock. Just before serving chopped Savoy Cabbage would be added and the whole dish garnished with loads of chopped parsley.

By the time that the chopping was over it was Pastry Time. I don't know why I have an absolute mental block about this humble ingredient but it causes anguish whenever I try to make it. Today was no different. I rolled it- it tore. The teacher rolled it and left it for me to roll it over the pin and line the flan tin - before her very eyes it tore. Right she said time to end this problem once and for all. Hooray! no more pastry dishes I inwardly cheered. "You can do it like Rachel does, between two sheets of clingfilm - it's foolproof" was the unexpected response. I have to say that it worked and with one sheet still underneath it turned into the tin very nicely and for the second time in a week I was able to apply the Ballymaloe lip, this time in a recipe that called for it , before chilling the pastry again.

Whilst it blind baked and received an egg glaze intended to apply a waterproof covering to the base I had time for some more chopping.

Beetroot and Baby Spinach Salad involves peeling raw beetroot and the reducing them to a julienne by dint of nifty knife work. These are then scattered over the washed and dried baby spinach leaves before receiving a dressing and a scattering of toasted sesame seeds.

By now the tart was ready for its filling and , guess what more chopping. The apple had to be reduced to slices 1/8 inch thick and lined around the edges of the tart to produce an even and symmetrical patter. A rich egg and cream custard is then poured in and the whole thing baked for around 40 minutes. Schadenfreude is a very satisfying if somewhat mean emotion but after the pastry problem, (" Bill, you don't have a problem with pastry- you rolled it three times this morning and it turned out beautiful" "Everyone else rolled it once and got better results") I was somewhat apprehensive about sharing an oven with the best pastry maker in the kitchen. Amazingly her pastry leaked even more than mine - egg wash notwithstanding- but the highlight was when she said "I wouldn't like to clean that oven today, which section is it?" "Yellow" " That's mine!!".

mine is on the Left
Whilst we waited for the tarts to cook it was time to plate up and present the Salad and Soup. Everything about tasting sessions has to be restaurant correct. Cold dishes have to be served on cold plates, hot ones on hot plates - tip a commercial dishwasher can raise a plate or dish to 60 degrees in two minutes - and properly garnished and presented. There is not a lot you can do with Soup and Salad but here are today's efforts.

 By now the tart had cooked and the interesting task of removing it from the ring was awaiting.Some nifty skewer work ensured that there were no sticking parts and the tart was eased out of the ring and on to a plate.

Cooled slightly and Apricot Glazed a slice was gently removed and plated for tasting, wittily garnished with the same pot of whipped cream that had already accompanied at least 3 other pies to my knowledge.

Tasting over I shot into lunch - only pasta left and then to Demo.

Rachel demonstrated several Thai dishes and also cold mousses. Salads and green vegetables also featured though the star was definitely the Brioche. This also provided the comedy moment of the day, one oven was overheating and the smaller buns cooked much quicker than anticipated and emerged somewhat browner and more solid than intended. "I see that they are quite brown" stated a previously dozing student, "Can you get them more golden?" "Not only are they overcooked in terms of colour, but if I threw this one at you it would bounce off and come back to me!"
Rachel demonstrates the structural integrity of a brioche grenade

Demonstration over I had to serve the food to the ravening hordes, apparently Thai is the new Chips, before Darina came in to make an announcement. "Your exam results are available from me in the office".

Worried students formed lines each trying to remember their exam number or they would not get the scores. One of the more worried was a housemate who has recently ceased to be the Principal of a major school in Tipperary, "I know how students feel now" she said but had no need to worry as she did just fine.

And how did I do? 91% for the herbs and salad and 87% for the techniques.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hot water pastry and shellfish platters

The rain which had deluged us for several hours yesterday eased and the day began clear and crisp. The massive puddle that effectively filled our back garden exit had shrunk to leave just an interestingly spongy and sodden stroll across the orchard and fields back to the school. The dawn, however, made up for any fears of trench foot before 8am.

Before 8 I had signed in, collected the weeks worth of recipes which I had forgotten to collect on Friday and was heading to Kitchen 2. Same kitchen as last week but another workstation and another partner. Some enterprising sorts (geeks) had calculated a pattern of movement and believed that they could predict who would partner whom next week but, as they could not predict which kitchen or workstation would be involved this was at best vaguely interesting

Anyway back to the real interest, the cooking. Today I would tackle a Dingle Pie, a Shellfish Platter and a Broccoli Salad. The Dingle Pie is very similar to the Kerry Pie except in that it contains Cumin Seed not Thyme Leaves. The commonality is that both are made with hot water crust pastry and both contain... wait for it, wait for it.. Lamb. Rapidly water and butter were brought to boiling point and added to flour and salt, the whole mass being rapidly combined and then set aside to cool - the pastry being useless at high temperature.

On to dicing the Lamb. Dice 1lb of boneless Lamb or Mutton began the recipe. Now this is Ballymaloe and we don't do things the easy way so the meat was still attached to either a leg or a shoulder and had to be boned out first. Any excess fat would be rendered and used to fry the vegetables and newly diced, boneless Lamb.

An orgy of boning and dicing of meat followed by a similar event with Carrots and Onions produced the raw materials for the pie filling.

These were fried off and then re-combined with the addition of flour, stock and the Cumin Seed now roasted and lightly crushed. After a lengthy slow cooking they were set aside to cool until the pie was ready to be assembled and baked.

On then to the Shellfish and first off the Mayonnaise. Though we are now big boys and can use Magimixes I chose to do mine by hand to better Shellfish came next on the agenda, Mussels, Oysters, 2 types of Clam, Periwinkles and Shrimp. The to be eaten cooked ingredients were cooked appropriately and the Oyster merely opened. Bladderwrack was boiled in lots of salty water - not to be eaten but as a suitable bed on which to assemble the Assiette des Fruits de Mer. Some Mayo was potted and all were ready for presentation and tasting.

But before that the flan ring for the Dingle Pie had to be filled with the cooled pastry. I remembered that the Basllymaloe way is to push forward a little lip at the top of the side to retain any subsequent filling. Brilliantly executed ( for the first time) I was mortified to be told that with this recipe it was not necessary! Nome the less the pie was filled, the lid put on - that lip came in handy for attaching the lid- and egg washed. All pies here have to be decorated with pastry leaves or the like so, given my extreme intolerance to sheep in 99% of its cooked forms I decorated appropriately.

Sadly it was not cooked today as there were plenty already on the way but I am told that it will appear tomorrow or Wednesday.

To ameliorate this crushing disappointment I was able to present the Platter:

What of the exciting Broccoli Salad! I here you cry. Well, no Broccoli was delivered so it could not be made. Brussels Sprouts were substituted but despite Darina's passionate defence of the Sprout, so wronged, so villified, so tasty, there was no way that I,or anyone else, would be making Sprout Salad. I suppose that had a party of vegan Bhuddist Monks been in we might, but only because they would have been too polite to protest, and even if they had they would have set fire to themselves not the School.

Lunch for me was a Jacket Potato.

Demo was interesting especially the introduction of Irish Proscuitto by a farmer who just happens to be the father of one of the students. He explained the processes involved and half hinted that he had only done it because no one believed that you could produce air dried ham in a cold and damp climate.

The Proscuitto honestly tasted as good as any that I have had in Italy and, if this is the standard of production, I hope that he takes on another challenge.

Eventually after a demonstration of Pasta making and Italian breads along side French tarts and Frites we ended in a traditional way. Two students shared a birthday and as ever cakes were baked and presented. One of them might just be a housemate.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Pumpkins, Punch and "Party On Dude!"

My plans for a quiet Saturday night were rudely shattered, but in a good way. My Natal Sharks supporting housemate having gone to the pub to watch the match returned unexpectedly early and said that there was to be a Halloween party in one of the other cottages and we should go.

Negotiating the field in the dark gave a clear indication of the evenings to come as the clocks go back and reinforced the need to add a torch to my kit.  We made it safely and a wonderful sight awaited. Much effort had gone into carving Pumpkins into lanterns, a wood fire blazed on the barbecue, the table groaned with comestibles and a Punch which was more like a blow to the head with a pit prop.

Spaghetti Bolognese bubbled on the hob and the place was bubbling with excitement and anticipation - apart from the area devoted solely to something called the X Factor, whatever that is.

As much attention had been paid to costume as to food and your blogger, having made no effort whatsoever, felt somewhat out of place though warmly welcomed by all. (In view of the advanced years of some readers the photo of the person in the gold catsuit was not even taken. The aim of this blog being to educate and entertain not cause cardiac arrest or arythmia at least.)

Persistent rain caused much dashing in and out to check the fire and lanterns outside and the Punch needed refreshing on several occasions. As more and more revellers arrived the noise level increased and that strange aero engine phenomenon, noticed in the Blackbird re-emerged. Eventually the volume reached a point at which some form of management intervention was required and "Darina" came over to complain.

Crossing the field back home was even more interesting than the way over and, after several close encounters with shin high box hedges in the Herb Garden, I was grateful for a little moonlight which did not illuminate everything but made the trees in my path a little more obvious.

Now I am not the only person blogging on this course and I would like to direct you all to a great blog by Laura Rego, who was my partner a couple of weeks ago.  Go to to access her alternative take. Reading both together gives a clearer view of life here and Laura's dishes always look much better than
Laura tries to hide from publicity
The additional hour in the morning paid dividends as the ironing was completed well early and by 9 even the F word had been managed. A day now stretched ahead though a major pluvial event made it unlikely that much outdoor activity would take place, and even the stroll for the Sunday papers looked like a non-starter. Poor weather conditions apart, the total dismantling of the Maccams by the mighty Toon brought sunny skies to this particular part of Cork and hopefully is an omen for the next six weeks. Tomorrow it's back to the old routine but with an added sense of purpose and  intent.