Saturday, 13 November 2010

When Saturday Comes

It was a late night in the Blackbird and, as I stumbled into bed at 1:30 I doubted that the alarm would perform its function at 6:30. Amazingly not only did it but the day was clear bright and sunny. Nonetheless I rolled over and had another hour.
It was Saturday, but this would not follow the usual pattern. OK so the washing had to be started but that was only to clear some space in the day. By 10 I had eaten some lovely eggs and toast and was ready for the day. A quick trip to Midleton was on the cards followed by an afternoon watching Wales v South Africa with the Ireland and England games being watched on laptops as well.
Just before we left for Midleton with a colleague from up the road the heavens opened. We drove through rain sodden country side before parking as near to the Market as we could. For me a double espresso was number one priority whilst my colleagues, even more enervated from the night before, opted for Curry from Green Saffron. My own engagement with this fine firm was to purchase some lovely fresh peppercorns and obtain the recipe and spice mix for their epic sticky gingerbread.

Baguettes and Beer made up my colleagues main shopping, in preparation for the game, and we were back in the house with plenty of time to spare so the nub end of Grand Prix qualifying filled the space before the Rugby. As usual a great Welsh opening was followed by the opponents taking the lead and Wales spirited attack just failing to secure the points. Declining the opportunity to watch Scotland in the pub – more from fear of not leaving before the X factor themed night - than lack of interest I determined to commence the filing this evening whilst watching catch up Tv, a cunning ploy to free up Sunday.
It is hard to believe that we are about to enter Week 9, just 13 cooking days left. The pressure is mounting, more recipes per day, more cooking and somehow the need to fit in extra practices, perfect techniques and revise for the written exams as well as plan for the final menu. If I had just dossed my way through the course the pressure would be deserved, but every student has really put in effort and yet we are all feeling the pressure. Changing even simple weekend routines offers a way to create time and improve the chances of success.
 A much needed break last evening, good company good beer good time set me up for a fresh assault on culinaria. Let’s hope it worked

Friday, 12 November 2010

Pies and Prejudice

When I arrived home last night there was a subtle difference, though the storm was building and would soon account for our broadband link, in my room all was silent and the chilling draught that played around my feet had abated. Instead of the delicate odour of air freshener a stronger, metallic whiff now prevailed. My window was fixed!! or at least sealed tight. Apparently I need a new hinge so I cannot open it for a few days till the replacement is in. Bit of a bugger in Summer but in Winter c'est la vie.

I managed a good night's sleep and awoke refreshed and ready for the fray.

Having seen off the fly, light and middle weight pastries I was going to step up and go for the heavyweights starting with flaky.

Arriving in school I quickly produced my duty dictated Biscuits for Cheese and took on the pastry. You could tell that I had moved up a division and was tackling the Big Boys as it immediately landed me a sucker punch. Somehow I had weighed out twice the needed amount of flour!! ( My partner this week also had a similar experience with her souffle and after investigation it was determined that the digital scale was not working). Having wasted an hour I quickly knocked up another dough and chilled it to within an inch of its life.

Taken from the fridge after half an hour it was rolled into a long rectangle, studded with butter and folded in three before being rolled out again and refolded before going back to the fridge. Twice more this was repeated to leave a pastry with 729 layers and a 4:3 flour to butter ratio. Chilled down over the weekend it will top an apple tart/pie on Monday.

I also cooked a rather nice Pork and Spinach Terrine combining four different cuts or cures of Pork with the green vegetable and when plating for tasting I used some of the legendary Cucumber Pickle which was my third dish of the day (+ of course Pastry) to make a pleasant presentation plate.

The morning ended with us cooking Crepes for our lunch with either Orange Butter or Nutella and Hazlenut fillings. Hmm Butter or Nutella, hard choice, love both. Oh well it only takes seconds to knock up a crepe so both.

Finally, before leaving the kitchen, I was caught on film with my partner Fiona

and also by a visiting American who clearly thought that with a beard like that I must be at least the Head Chef if not the Executive. "May I have your name sir, for the caption?" "Obama, Clinton George Obama".

Demo this afternoon featured the, if correctly executed, brilliant Caesar Dressing - in this case accompanying a warm salad of Gubbeen Bacon and a Poached Egg. It also featured  poaching fish. This takes some time, has a criminal risk element and is beat done under cover of darkness. When you have your fish you can then gently simmer it in water or stock until any semblance of translucency is lost and the fish is tender and moist. This needs to be accompanied with one of those sauces where you boil several liquid ingredients to oblivion and then slowly fill the pan with melted butter. Perfect!!

It also gave Rory another chance to demonstrate his intimate understanding of an animal's anatomy. (Midge look away)

Then he demonstrated the Apple Pie which I shall attempt to recreate on Monday.

"This pie uses Flaky Pastry, it's a very technical pastry which gives great results" he introduced the subject. "How many of you have made the Pastry? And How many haven't?"  As the appropriate hands were raised he delivered the bombshell. " You will all make Flaky Pastry ONCE in your lives" " Next week we will make Puff Pastry and it is easier and far more flexible in useage"

I was so depressed at this thought that I could barely taste the ice cream that her served with the Apple Pie or the Caramelised fruit that accompanied it.

Tonight the Blackbird beckons.

Tired, Tart, Thursday

This posting was delayed as a second storm hit last evening and took out the broadband connection

The storm that hit us a couple of days ago returned with a vengeance last night. As winds and rain lashed us the inadequacies of my double glazing were revealed again, this time with devastating effect. Between 12:30 and 6am I managed just two hours sleep. Not exactly ideal preparations for the grudge match of the century in Man v Pastry IV.
A Normandy Pear Tart would provide the battleground and, as P day crept closer through the small hours, my windy noisy room took on the atmosphere of a landing craft approaching the beach for the invasion. This time the pastry would be very tricky a 7-4 mix of flour to butter where a 6-3 mix would be usual. This meant a very short pastry which had every possibility of tearing or just generally misbehaving.
But it had to be done. So around 7:20 left the house determined to get to school and maximise the resting and chilling time for the pastry to make it more manageable. But first there was the matter of making the Lemonade which would refresh students over lunch. A stock syrup would be joined by the freshly squeezed juices of four lemons and two oranges and some plain old water before being chilled down and ice added at the last minute.

That done, a quick trip to the office to log the problems with the sealing of the double glazing and then, rubbed down and warmed up I made my way to the ring. Music blared as I passed through the door to Kitchen 1- not the triumphalism of the Rocky theme or Simply the best but some weird hip hop, trance, jungle electro crap. None the less I was on a roll. Butter was chilled, flour and salt sifted, my hands plunged into ice cold water and the rubbing in began. 5 minutes later a small ball of dough lay in the bottom of a large bowl before being wrapped in plastic film and then consigned to the Siberian wastes of the ice box of the fridge. Whilst it entered suspended animation I began the days other dishes and the poached Pears that would eventually decorate the pastry.

After an hour in the chiller the pastry was brought out, pushed flat and rolled out on the work surface. Not for me the safety net of Clingfilm, nor the property altering lubricant of flour. No this was rolling-pin on pastry, Mano i mano, my only weapon being a palette knife to ensure that the pastry could not cling onto the surface in desperation. Rolled to a near perfect 1/8 inch thick it did not protest as it was folded in half and then quarters, laid over the tin (ungreased), eased into the ridges of the flan tin, the lip was made and the excess removed. After just five minutes the now acquiescent pastry was sent back to the arctic wastes of the freezer to chill before blind baking.
Meantime the pears were poaching in the left over stock syrup from the Lemonade duty and onions were sliced into rings and luxuriating a la Cleopatra in a bath of Milk, not Asses but Kerry Cow. Later dipped in seasoned flour they would be fried crisp and used to accompany the Steak that was another element of Lunch – the starter would be a plate of assorted smoked fish with suitable dressings, garnishes and sauces.

A quick trip to the 180 degree warmth of the oven turned the pastry into a thin crisp and golden pleasure and, filled with Frangipane (flavoured with Kirsch) and the poached Pear, it returned to the oven to complete. 45 minutes later it re-emerged as the finished article and the centrepiece of my tasting plates for today.

Deemed delicious by the teacher I felt it only right to do a lap of honour around the kitchen before running and diving to slide on my stomach the length of the corridor as ticker tape rained down and fireworks rent the midday air.
Actually I tidied up, cleaned down the Weigh Up area, ate my steak and a generous slice of tart before going off to Demo to see what I would cook tomorrow.

Terrines and souffl├ęs dominated the three hour demo. But as they say “Pride goes before a fall” and today was no exception. “Now, we have finished with shortcrust pastrys both sweet and savoury” announced Ms Allen “so tomorrow it’s Flaky Pastry and next week Puff!” Oh deep joy, but I am on a run at the moment so I look forward with interest to taking it to the next level. The tricky bit will be keeping it straight I think. Progress report as and when.
Two other things, firstly Declan (the sourdough starter) was outgrowing his current accommodation so he traded up to a 2 litre apartment this evening where he can spread out and grow up properly.  

And secondly, I had a number of emails asking for the melting biscuit recipe. Dead easy so here goes: Weigh up any scraps and nub ends of cheese, (hard, soft, Mature mild whatever – but not too much blue). Put them in a food processor with equal amounts of plain flour and butter i.e.6 oz cheese gets 6 of flour and 6 of butter. Process into a ball then roll up into a sausage shape.  Chill for an hour to hour and a half. Cut about 1/3 inch rounds and bake in an oven at 250 for 5 minutes, remove from oven and cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Eat as soon as you like but within a day or so in any event.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Wine, Waiting and Winter

Wednesday and the first sharp frost of the season hit Shanagarry. The fields were dressed in white and above ground the leaves took on a shimmer of tiny water droplets. At least the grass had set today so soggy feet were unlikely.

 Today would be a kitchen free day of lectures and demos so it was with some enthusiasm we sat down for the first lecture of the day covering blue cheeses. All the classics were there, Cashel, Bellingham, Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola and its baby sister Dolce Latte. Later these would prove to be the highlights of a very late lunch. But before that we got a recipe for some melting cheese biscuits, made in minutes and using up odd ends of cheese. They may appear on one of my menus when I come home.

We were then joined by a large additional crowd of people for the Dynamic Vegetarian Demo. Mainly this consisted of stews and curries with suitable accompaniments. Having seen the bland and boring fare often provided as "The Vegetarian Option" it was a relief to see some food which would appeal to anyone. If I do ever open an eating establishment it will not have a vegetarian option. To an extent I see these as tokenistic suggesting that our business is meat but if you really insist we will do something (usually Salad, Pasta or Mushroom Stroganoff) for you. There are lots of great dishes which do n ot include meat and I would wish to put at least one in every course so that people could choose them rather than herding one group towards them. On another note whilst every restaurant is expected to offer a "Vegetarian Option" have you ever seen a "Carnivore Option" on the menu of a vegetarian establishment.

A rather good Cheese Croquette recipe looks likely to appear again for me though the All Purpose Chili with TVP is less likely to. "You cant tell it's not mince" said someone, "Obviously you buy own brand pre-cooked tinned mince" thought I. Some of the better recipes were from Madhur Jaffrey and, if the long tradition of non meat eating in India had not thrown up a number of really good recipes several thousand years of sub continental culinary tradition would have been in vain. The lecture took far longer than its allotted time and we headed for lunch at 1:40 not 12:30.

However, in the meantime some epic Onion Bhajis and Pakoras had had an airing and Darina demonstrated the art of the fondue, telling us it was great for a dinner party. Thanks Darina, but I bet I would fail if my exam meal was Crudites with a selection of dips, Cheese Fondue and a Chocolate Fountain. Oh yes, some spinach and mushroom pancakes also made an appearance with several ways of folding them - packages, rolls, triangles - I thought if you folded them in half, paneed them (preferably with Panko crumbs) and deep fried them  you could recreate the very retro Findus Crispy Pancake to go with the very 70's Fondue and possibly a take on the Angel Delight/Instant Whip school of desserts.

Anyway lunch eventually arrived 20 minutes before we were due to return to lectures, a delay till 2:30 was announced and I had time for a brief snackette, the highlight of which was some pickled tongue freshly prepared. It may not be everyone's favourite but good quality meat well cooked is brilliant.

The afternoon was due to be a Wine lecture concentrating on Italy, but in Ballymaloe style there was a little bonus. A Chilean wine expert was in the school and gave us a brief introduction in advance of a more detailed look next week. He told us that Chile was famous for two things, the 2010 earthquake and more recently the Miners trapped underground. He hoped to add a third - their wine which had just won a major accolade. Unfortunately he was unable to expound further as he had a train to catch and our delayed lunch had reduced the time for which he was available.

Chile- the longest country in the world

Next and finally we got onto the wines of the Veneto. A white and four reds were up for tasting. These were a Souave (w) and four versions of Valpolicella. The first was a Souave Classico or had been until the winemaker decided to abandon the lottery of using corks for a screw top which protected the wine and had to surrender the 'Classico' label. The Allegrini family were also responsible for the other four wines Two more of these had changed to screw tops and had to give up status with no change to the actual product. The methods of production of the four were different and produced very different wines. My personal favourite was the 'Giovanni Allegrini Recioto Classico 2007' a rich sweet dessert wine  weighing in at 14.58% ABV and a hefty €40 for a 50cl bottle - equivalent to €60 for a usual 75cl bottle. If this one appeared on a table near me in the near future I would not say No.

Finally let me tell you about another good Ballymaloe Blog. Written by this week's cooking partner Fiona it gives another insight to the life of a student and can be found at
Tomorrow Man v Pastry - the final facedown.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Soup, Salad and Soggy Feet

A better start to the day as the rain had eased off overnight and, as I had a lift to school, there was no need to identify and avoid puddles and areas of swamp in the meadow before we meet the gravel paths. My feet have been wet on so many mornings that trench foot is a very real possibility as winter and more rain make soggy feet a likelihood.

There had been some confusion last night about what we were to cook today, entirely on my part, but a helpful exchange of emails meant that I had a clear idea of the tasks ahead. Even better my patient and supportive partner this week Fiona had offered to take on one of the salads. This consisted of cooking a cauliflower complete with shredded leaves and stalks, dipping it in dressing whilst still hot, and reconstructing the cauliflower on a plate. She did this brilliantly!
 In the meantime I was to make a bizzarre trio of dishes, Pea and Coriander Soup, Potato and Spring Onion Salad, and Pear Belle Helene. All three had amendments after Darina had demonstrated them yesterday. The Chillis were too hot and instead of using one we were now to use one third of one to minimise the heat produced. The potatoes were likely to fall apart and instead of neat dice were were able to produce a 'rustic' salad provided it did not verge on the agricultural. Finally the combination of pears poached in lemon syrup and chocolate sauce was deemed too rich, use the lemon or the chocolate.

These changes did somewhat simplify the agenda but there were still the usual hidden elements, the dressings, garnishes and accompaniments but it looked far more manageable. In the end I managed to plate all three and received relatively favourable comment. Again thanks to Fiona who had made Vanilla Ice Cream and agreed to pair my pear with that for a joint ( and several) presentation.

The pear had been tasted by this stage
No sooner had we cleared down than I had lunchtime duties, serving soup and relaying tables. Once again I managed to miss lunch, is it any surprise that I am wasting away? (Note for Mrs K read that as waisting away). 

A lengthy demonstration involving pastry (urrgh) meant that I am likely to be going into another battle with my demons on Thursday, cue Cerys "When facing my demons I clothe them and feed them and I smile, yes I smile as they're taking me over" or as Edgar Broughton said "Out Demons Out". Mystical ramblings apart I will overcome pastry or die in the effort.

Steak was also high on the agenda and on Thursday each kitchen will be presented with a significant chunk of cow which when we have deboned it should produce steaks for all. Cue old diagram

Lectures tomorrow so a chance to relax and hope that my aching limbs will recover sufficiently to get through to the weekend. Old age does not come on its own, and when accompanied by the tail end of a hurricaane and anticipated overnight temperatures below 0 (fortunately Fahrenheit not celsius - or even worse Kelvin) is able to produce some spectacular aches pains and twinges. I shall continue to pay homage to the great god Ibuprufen and hope for some divine mercy from that direction.

And finally a close up of the soup just to show that I have made some (minor) improvement in presentation.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Of mousse and Menu

The storm which had been battering and exposing the deficiencies in the double glazing finally left us around 3am. Just as well because I had a date with the Glasshouse at 7:30 to collect herbs, salad and vegetables. The sun had yet to break through though it was at least dry as I walked the couple of hundred yards from the house.

On the order form today Tomatoes and Aubergines, both approaching the end of their season and taking some time to pick out the best survivors, along with 15 types of salad leaf and a range of herbs. A task which could have taken only 20 minutes was twice as long as my partner on the rota had not shown up. Instead of being back in school by 8 o'clock it was nearer 8:40 when we returned. No time for coffee or even to consider my menu as I had to dash straight to my workstation and commence.

The dishes looked simple, Roast Duck and Chocolate Mousse. The devil was in the detail though, the duck needed stuffing and that meant making it and leaving it cool before it could enter the cavity provided  by the evisceration of the avian treat, and it needed an apple sauce making and an accompanying red cabbage and apple dish. The mousse also needed almond macaroons.

Luckily today's mousse was not the gelatine variety and in the battle of Mousse versus Man would prove itself the Charlton Athletic of the Mousse world - easy, easy, easy! The macaroons were stunningly simple and stunningly tasty. The duck once reflated with a filling of sage and onion stuffing went to rest in a warm place for an hour and a half. At this stage there was even time for a coffee, taken with a watchful eye on braising cabbage and apples.

By 11:30 all was ready for tasting and the carving of the duck began. This in turn produced a few moments   "You could have left more meat on the drumstick" " I did, that's the wing you are holding". Having taken advice on the best form of presentation I eventually got it together and lined up the apple sauce and red cabbage beside it.

All three dishes were acceptable so time to whip the mousse out of the fridge and pile up the macaroons next to it, hoping that this was acceptable presentation

Again there were discussions; "It's rather Rummy" "The recipe said 1 or2 tablespoons according to taste, I like Rum so it got 2" "But it's a matter of balance" " Absolutely, and on balance I prefer Rum to Chocolate" "But it is rather nice and these macaroons are brilliant"

Ho hum, with food the loser today time for a spot of lunch before an afternoon of demonstrations about buffet items. Several salads, eggs done 53 ways and a couple of soups, the pea and coriander proving incendiary as the wrong kind of chili had somehow been used. Other highlights included the ice bowl that would not separate and the gradual drift of audience as three hours passed and four loomed over the horizon. The depleted rows of seats looked like the Emirates Stadium after 80 minutes of their most recent football match, but I boasted about that yesterday and a repeat would be churlish.

And finally Question of the day (after a detailed demonstration of making honeycomb) " Wouldn't it have been more fun to lick the chocolate off a Crunchie?"

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Rest, Recreation and Mighty Magness

 Despite the anticipated tail end of the hurricane and the forecast 1" of rain the day dawned bright and calm so I walked down to the filling station to buy a Sunday paper. Returning a couple of espressos and the paper set the day up.

It was even more set up when Jean kindly gave me some of her Sourdough starter!! I shall name it Declan after its maker (Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads - and it is common to name them) and feed it carefully to maturity before bringing it home at the end of the course. Luckily Declan will not be subject to the sub zero temperatures of an international flight in the cargo hold - you cannot carry liquid in hand luggage- though the car deck of an Irish Sea ferry in December is probably equally cold, he might have to upgrade to club class!!

Busy surface
Sour dough starters need feeding with fresh flour and clean (non chlorinated) water every day until they are ready, in the process they develop a really strong beery smell and Declan already smells like he was born in a bar. Once combined with the full amount of dough for the loaf about 1lb can be taken off and refrigerated for the next loaf, this is how they have such lengthy lives.

Around lunchtime I was asked whether I fancied doing the cliff walk in Ballycotton. Now, walking is not my all time number one recreational activity but the day was nice so I went to Ballycotton anyway. Arranging to meet up again in about 90 minutes I made my way to the harbour.

The tide was just past low so I headed down onto the beach where I found a large tree trunk that had washed up recently. It had clearly been in the sea for some time as it was deeply wrapped in seaweed and had a number of shells attached to the strands. I have no idea what kind of shells they were but if any reader knows please send the answer as a comment. Though we are encouraged to forage on all occasions my severe lack of knowledge about these shells meant that they were not about to become free comestibles.

The shells were not the only things that I found today that would not be committed to the table, our own back garden revealed these fine, but unquantified fungi

Even though we are a week into November the weather could be that of early spring and, given sufficient bravery, the larder could well be supplemented by free produce from hedgerow and shoreline.

Back in the house my day was made complete as the Mighty Mags overcame the dirty cheating Gunners, oh yes and by the way, the filing got done.