Saturday, 20 November 2010

Thanks for Giving

Saturday usually means getting the washing done and relaxing. So it was today but first there was the matter of baking.
My Sourdough had been fed, risen, knocked back, beaten up in the Hobart and risen again. Not so much as I had hoped but the temperatures have been less than ideal and anyway a long, slow risen bread is tastier than a fast one. So up at 6:30 and the oven on to 230 – double checked. The breads came out of the traditional basket moulds, received a light slashing - I suspect Rory would have been the PP Arnold of dough (for those under 40 she recorded the original “First Cut is the Deepest) - and was slipped into a hot oven.
40 minutes later a quick check revealed a nicely browned and hollow sounding loaf so a covering with a tea towel – don’t want it too crusty- and onto a cooling rack. The next hour as it cooled was an agony of anticipation but eventually rich butter was slathered on and the first bite taken, Crusty but with a chewy interior and above all great taste. Not bad at all.

 The 16 fluid ounces that I kept back and store in the fridge should mean that the next one is even better!!
Off upstairs with the Small Faces ringing in my head:
There's wheat in the field
And water in the stream
And salt in the mine
And an aching in me

I can no longer stand and wonder
'Cos I'm driven by this hunger
So I'll jug some water
Bake some flour
Store some salt and wait the hour

While I'm thinking of love
Love is thinking for me
And the baker will come
And the baker I'll be

I am depending on my labour
The texture and the flavour

NB not actually “Thinking of love” make that “Thinking of Loaf” – (NOT Marvin Lee Aday)

At lunchtime I strolled up to the school to return the baking equipment which I had used earlier in the day. Apart from action around the Saturday Pizzas (12:30-4) the school is usually quiet on Saturday unless there is a specialist course on. Today was the exception. Kitchen 2 was fully fired up with ovens burning and steam escaping giant stock pots, elsewhere students were groaning under the weight and volume of the pumpkins they were carrying, and delicious looking pies cooled on ranges and window sills. 

The reason for all this activity? A Thanks and Giving Dinner this evening to celebrate Thanksgiving for our American contingent, and to raise money for the Darina Allen India Fund.
A full thanksgiving menu was planned and a raffle had been seriously marketed to raise additional monies. The prizes we had been told were awesome though rumours that First Prize was a place on the stall at Midleton Farmers Market and second prize was Blitz after Demo could not be confirmed. The organisers alluded to local producer related foodstuffs Hmmm Jameson is local and a foodstuff.

I shall of course be attending this noble event to report back and hopefully get the goss and supporting pictures.

Actually with only three weeks left it will be nice to get together with everyone else outside the kitchen and I want to thank the students who have put so much effort into organising a fun time and a great meal.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Do you want Fries with that? Career advice for all

No fires to report this morning as I did not have biscuits on the menu - they are back for Monday though so there is still a chance.

Today was two simple but technically demanding dishes a Grand Marnier Souffle and Consomme Julienne. The first involved several stages and required Creme Patisserie to be made before any other element was started. I decided to garnish the finalised article with segmented Orange and, such is the state of my close-up vision that I managed to run the tip of a filleting knife into my finger in the process. Not much pain and a very small cut but, if I did not want to add a garnish of randomly scattered blood drops a cut that had to be bandaged till the bleeding stopped. Undeterred, however I plunged on making the semi meringue base, mixing it into the Creme Patisserie, running a clean thumb around the ramekin and thrusting it into a 230 degree oven. This time I knew that the temperature was right as I was sharing the oven with a colleague who had set the controls herself.

The Consomme required lots of chopping and dicing and stripping meat of virtually every vestige of fat or sinew. The preparation took nearly as long as the cooking. Once the veg and meat were suitably reduced to small shards they were covered in cold stock and egg whites and brought to the boil. At this stage the egg white thickens and traps all of the veg and any random blobs of fat with the meat in a solid raft which floats on top of the stock. 45 minutes simmering is sufficient to trap everything and then the liquid is carefully ladled out into a coffee filter with care being taken to leave the raft undisturbed. The aim is a sparklingly clear and really tasty liquid in which the Julienne of vegetables may clearly be seen. The Julienne had been prepared during the down time brought about by a 45 minute simmer, boiled gently for 6 minutes and then plunged into ice water to refresh. Added to the stock at the last minute they would cook through as they were brought to the table - if they were thin enough!!

ll of this meant a mad scramble to finish as both dishes had to be completed and served hot, hot, hot. The results were encouraging even though the souffle had the kind of list that would have had a lesser captain calling for the boats to be lowered.

Overall I was pleased and they got good marks as well so in terms of results I would say that this has been my best - or at least most consistent week.

Demo introduced the humble Hamburger. Darina cooked them 27 different ways and found six styles of chips to serve with them. Whilst McDonald's classic Big Mac may be summed up as "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions all in a sesame seed bun" The Big Bally is more like " One organic beef patty, an interesting selection of sauces and relishes that also double up as main course vegetables- or even soups- artisan cheese, freshly baked rolls, lots of rocket, cucumber pickle and an array of garnishes though not on this occasion Lemon Geranium". One particular burger looked as though a salad had been garnished with a burger rather than the other way round.

Highlight of the Demo came when two of our American cousins offered to build a real burger which involved the usage of H***mans Mayonnaise, H**nz Ketchup and F*****'s Mustard not Home made, Tomato fondue and Grain enhanced Dijon.

We were also shown how to make sausages though the lack of suitable fatty belly pork meant that we were shown how to make 8 sausages. Still it was an interesting and possibly valuable lesson.

Tasting was interesting but limited as one burger was made from Lamb and the same set of servers were used for all! On Monday I shall be making the burgers myself and will produce one called Tan y Ddraig.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Day of Disasters

If you are going to cock up big time, it is better to do so in week 9 than week 12 and the exams.

The day started well enough as I walked up to school. My duty today was to make the Cheese Biscuits for the Cheeseboard and I wanted to get this done before starting on a fairly busy day of cooking. By 7:45 I was in the kitchen, coffee on and the raw ingredients for crackers yielding to my impressive rolling pin technique and an oven warming to receive them. By 8 the crackers were cut, pricked and on a baking tray going into the oven.

By 7 minutes past eight a colleague ran to tell me that my biscuits were on fire!!! Smoke billowed around the kitchen and some hard, blackened objects were undergoing final cremation. Check everything my culinary check list told me. Mix too dry?No, Tray too high? No. Temperature right? No. Dear reader if the recipe says 150 that is what it means. Cooking at 250 will not produce good results.

Luckily I had spare dough and , whilst the oven cooled to the correct temperature a replacement batch of biscuits were rolled, cut and put into the oven.

This had, however, delayed matters and on a day when Declan would move to the next stage. More flour was added along with a scattering of granary flour and he then took a trip to Kitchen 3 to meet the Hobart dough mixing machine. Think Kenwood, then think much bigger, then think more power and you get the picture.

Battered and ripped by the baking behemoth Declan turned into a smooth and silky dough which then went into a tin and into a fridge to rise gently and slowly until tomorrow morning. Tomorrow the final rise and baking will happen, but in the meantime 16 fluid ounces of Declan returned to sit in our fridge for the next time I want to make Sourdough.

Back to the kitchen and, running behind time I was grateful for a relatively short list of tasks. I had to cook Swiss Chard, including the stalks, as THE Welsh person on the course I got Leeks again, and a spicy crusted seared Salmon. In between prepping these I managed to use some left over Puff Pastry to create some little tart things with a near Eccles cake filling as an extra.

and to take the leftover filling home to repeat at my leisure.

Time was flying as I set about the three tasks which I had been set but I was able to plate them fairly well and the taste was good which is really all that matters.

Finished and by 12:50 I would even get lunch today. Then I looked at the clock again - not 12:50 but 11:50!!! Definitely lunch today and a little rest before Demo.

Rory took Demo again today using his customary skills to enthrall and entertain us. His presentation is immaculate and the concentration on his face as he moves something one millimeter for balance, whilst telling us there is no need to be anal about presentation, is a wonder to behold. Someone must have told him that Darina had dismembered Daffy on Tuesday as he decided that we needed a second demonstration of how to joint a duck. Rory apologised for being so slow today having dismembered a duck in 45 seconds flat!! He then showed us two new souffles (one of which I get tomorrow) and Consomme. The trick he said was to leave a clear and sparkling liquid in which every trace of solid material or fat had been removed to leave a rich tasting broth to which miniature slices or dice of vegetable could be added. The use of egg whites as a filter certainly did the job leaving a beautiful consomme.

As the duck was cooked several ways the demonstration of how much fat renders out of a duck went horribly wrong. A full ladle of fat was poured into the wrong saucepan. The Consomme. AS Rory quipped later "You will have to imagine how good this tasted". More importantly he said "Things can and do go wrong in Kitchens, you just have to get over it." Suddenly Crackergate was out into perspective and into the past.

Now I often include photos of the amazing dawns that we get here but the evenings can be good as well. So a couple of shots from this evening to prove that not only is it dark when we leave but often the moon is up as well.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Plus the VAT, Guv

Wednesday and the return of the lectures. Today we would concentrate on business and the economics of running a catering concern in "Cooking for Pleasure and Profit", not withstanding 66% of start ups going into administration in their first 12 months!!

But first a Sourdough update. It has been a while since I blogged about Declan, a while in which he has grown and become beerier, fluffy and twice his original size.

Time to take more action. Yesterday he received a real feed 8oz flour, 8fl oz water not the pathetic 2 and 2 that he had been weaned on. This morning his second big feed was administered at 8:30 and he returned to the shelf for a final rest. Tomorrow the feed will start to incorporate Rye Flour and Wheat Germ before he is poured into the bowl of a Kenwood mixer and covered with a black bin bag to start his rise. On Friday he will be baked in a special basket having been slashed with a sharp knife to make a pretty pattern.

I shall check to see whether Rory "Freddie" O'Connell or Darina are available for swordsmanship displays. A dismembered part of Declan will return with me to loiter in the fridge ready for a further bread and the original pot in which he grew will be used to make a follow up, benefiting from a lack of washing up to retain the interesting wild yeast culture that has powered his irresistible rise.

Yeast related excitement over it was in for the big day of business. This was the follow up day to the original of about a month ago and would build on that experience as well as providing a number of questions for the final exams. To Commence a recap, and the group in which I found myself was asked to give "A Visual Representation of a Standard Recipe". Quite how you display all of the information, ingredients, weight, nutrition, cooking time and method, portion number etc in one visual I do not know. However we are resourceful here at Ballymaloe Cookery School, and just a little sad, so within seconds we had opted for the obvious pun and produced our Quiche recipe as a Pie Chart!! These are the jokes folks and that was about as funny as The Economics of Catering gets.

That having been said we did watch an episode of Kitchen Nightmares - the one where Gordon is fed the rancid Scallop with comedy results- but were asked to give our opinion of the reason that the restaurant was failing.

With perfectly straight faces we duly suggested Management inefficiency, lack of management systems and Standard Recipes, Poor Marketing and inappropriate placement in the market, although it was blindingly obvious that the "Head Chef" could not cook and the owner hadn't a clue about that or anything else.

After starting the kind of maths exercises which make you realise that sometimes even accountants can have a purpose in life we were sent off to lunch with a promise of even better calculations afterwards. My 87c calculator was approaching meltdown and I turned it off just before it spontaneously combusted- without it my brain would have been in a similar state though perhaps not worth quite as much.

The afternoon started with a shock as the schedule for the Practical exam was handed out. We have only until next Thursday at 9am to determine what our three course menu for the finals will be!!!! Panic is a very good word to use at this time, gobsmacked and DOH!!! are others.

But there's more maths to be done. Having calculated the  Suggested Selling Price of a dish by dividing by the percentage profit that you would wish to make and adding VAT to get the actual selling price we then had to calculate the margin afforded by the dish and also to remember that banks are interested in cash not percentage profits. Just to make it more interesting we then had to decide what actual price we would put on a dish that was really only costing 29c and should therefore have sold for around 97c(plus Vat), we felt that on a menu it would be priced at €4.50, and do the back calculation to deduct the VAT and recalculate the Margin.  If I have ever, I repeat ever, questioned the raison deter of accountants I take it all back. You are a wonderful profession, full of charm and sparkling repartee with a great taste in fashion.

A case study finished our academic input during which we found out that a Cafe run by a person with a degree in Electrical Engineering and work experience as a Fitness Consultant could work, but only if it is opposite one of Ireland's better rock festivals and on of only two eating places in town on a major road, oh yes and if you don't mind being regularly fined for fly posting.

Tomorrow its back to the range.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A day of opposites

The middle of November but still the morning broke as though in early May.
Sadly this gave no hint of the raging storm to come. Never, before this afternoon, have we been able to see the waves crashing on a headland some six miles away. The rising winds brought rain and lots of it. The walk to school this morning was a stroll, the walk home was a struggle, dark, wet and windy.

The day in between had been better. No pastry for me today, instead an old adversary raised its head again - gelatin, of the powdered variety. On the face of it three relatively straightforward dishes, a Smoked and Fresh Salmon Rillette, Cardamom and Youghurt Cream, and filled Chocolate shells. The fact that I had to make Lemonade meant that I would have the Stock Syrup that I would need for the filled shells so one technique was already there as a bonus.

First up the Cardamom Cream, seeds were extracted and crushed, milk and cream infused and heated before being cooled and then the dreaded gelatin. Amazingly Powder behaved as well as its more friendly cousin Leaf and within a few minutes I was mixing milk and cream with gelatin and home grown Youghurt and chilling to ensure a set.

The Chocolate Shells required either a ganache piping in and decorating or a fruit being macerated in Kir and Stock Syrup. Both were achieved and the piping meant that I had now done it twice in a lifetime. One of the more arcane techniques which we have to learn is peeling and pitting a Grape!! So Grapes in Kir filled the remaining shells and the Salmon loomed.

Shredding both poached and smoked Salmon with butter and herbs is a time consuming but otherwise simple task. The real trick is in seasoning the finished dish and presenting it.  Nutmeg is a good spice for an otherwise fairly bland dish and presentation really comes down to putting the rillettes on a vegetable or accompanying them with some form of bread. In the end I settled for Melba Toast as it gave another tick on the list.

Incredibly I was finished first, and by 11:30 - 12:40 is a more usual finish time!!

The tasting went very well with all three dishes being approved and the presentation of the Cream getting a special mention. Amazing what you can achieve by borrowing some Strawberry Coulis, putting toast next to a ramekin of Rillette and a shot glass of coffee next to a selection of petit fours.

I actually had time for a full lunch today before heading off to clear down the weigh up area - again.

Darina took Demo again and, falling behind Rory in the slice and dice an animal stakes it was poor Daffy who got it today. Not content with jointing him for a confit, Darina cut off every piece of fat she could find to render down to provide the cooking medium for the confit.

Now that we have been shown how to make Puff Pastry it featured heavily on the menu with Pithiver and Jalousie taking prime spots but Butterflies and Sacristans also having their place and finally the humble but incredibly tasty Eccles Cake. To use up spare Pastry Darina determined that lots of Eccles Cakes should be made and called for a volunteer, step forward Christina Bollinger!!!

Tomorrow a day of lectures on The Business of Food looms. Bring your calculator we were advised. As mine cost 87cents from Tesco I hope that it proves a good and secure investment!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Oxtail and the Triple Crown

Back to Kitchen 1 but a new partner and a new workstation, a new week loomed and new challenges would arise. My first was to seek out Tim Allen and get urgent remedial action for my Sourdough. Bubbling away nicely yesterday, today it looked lethargic and under-performing. A rapid diagnosis of need for an additional feed had the monster perked up but not ready for use today. Oh well, on to the actual tasks of the day.

An Apple Pie, Pasta and Melted Leeks would fill the morning. If I could not cook the national vegetable of Wales, i determined, I would leave the course today. Actually like many Ballymaloe vegetable recipes a massive amount of vegetable is cooked in a minimal amount of water for an inordinate length of time (often this also involves butter), and requires an act of faith. Today was no exception but I had the weight of a nation behind me and triumphed.

That left the Pie and the Pasta. Now I love Pasta and there is no doubt that Fresh tastes better than Dried - but 100 Million Italians can't be wrong and dried is the order of the day. But this is not Bologna it's Ballymaloe so out with the eggs, 00 flour, Olive oil and salt and on with the task. To the dry ingredients I added chopped herbs to give a delicate flavour and a lovely speckled appearance.

15 minutes of kneading after adding the liquids gave a smooth and silky dough which could be laid aside to rest. After 15 minutes of kneading I needed to be laid aside to rest.

On then to the Pie. The Flaky Pastry had been prepared yesterday so only a shortcrust to be made. This would be one of the more difficult pastries as it contained a reasonable proportion of sugar. but I am on a roll and this was soon chilling prior to being rolled out. Apples were roughly chopped and would be added to the shortcrust one it was on the baking dish. A covering of the Flaky was added and then the two types of pastry were bound by some nifty tucking and folding before being bound irretrievably by gentle knife work and then some scalloping. Finally after an egg wash and pastry decoration it headed to the oven for about an hour to cook golden on the outside with a melting filling.

This would be served with the expected Soft Brown Sugar and Softly Whipped Cream but also with a Bonus Element of some Cinnamon Ice Cream provided by a colleague who is far too modest to ask for a name check.

Just the Pasta to go then. Out with the massive rolling machine and a gradual reduction in thickness from 10 to 0 and |I had a pasta so delicate that you could see through it whilst the structural integrity remained. Dried for 30 minutes then cut into Papardelle size ribbons it would be quickly cooked and then garnished for tasting.

 Finally the dishes were all put up for a tasting which they survived rather well.

Then to Demo where Rory cooked Stews, started Bread, made little chocolate cases which were later filled, made exciting mashes and Polenta. The highlight was the Oxtail and Beef Stew which again gave him a chance to demonstrate why he should have had the lead role in Psycho or ALL of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

So Oxtail done and after beating the evil flour three times today I awarded myself the Triple Crown before heading off to do the washing up.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Cross Referencing and other strange customs

Yet again the weather delivered a perfect day. A good hard frost lay on the ground and trees, evidence of a clear night, and by 8 this morning the sun was climbing sluggishly over the horizon and brightening the day. Please note that I wrote ‘the day’ not ‘my day’ as with metronomic regularity the filing loomed. You would think that after 7 previous weeks of doing this that I would have grown less despondent at the thought of organising the tons of paper handed to us each week. Well, yes a bit – but now the evil that is cross referencing was upon us.

As dishes become more complex it is often necessary to have several recipes to hand, if not for the main event then for the garnish. Since we get them in daily blocks the accompanying sauce may be from two or three weeks ago, and may be part f another dish or more likely printed on the back of a totally unrelated recipe. Tomorrow for example I shall cook an Apple Tart. This uses Flaky Pastry – made last Friday – combined with Shortcrust – not cooked since week 3. I will also be doing a noodle dish from 2 weeks ago,  but not so far cooked by me, and a new one for melted Leeks.
Unless there is a reasonable degree of cross referencing there is no chance of ever finding all the component recipes for a dish. Oh yes, and you have to hand in your indexed and cross referenced files for inspection during exam week.

The usual ploys were used to delay the inevitable but in the end there was no alternative to actually doing it, another hour of my life wasted.
On an environmental note I am amazed that we are still getting paper. Surely a DVD or emailed copies would be more efficient and would save several rainforests per year, not to mention the several hectares of plastic needed to file them in.
Many things though amaze me. You will recall that some weeks ago we broached th subject of Terroir, the precise combination of geography, geology, topography and climatic condition that determines why a wine from one grape tastes totally different to another from the same grape when the only difference is location.  To find out more follow the link Increasingly Terroir is expanding from wine into other disciplines such as Tea or Coffee growing to explain subtle differences and to identify potential ideal growing conditions. I got to thinking that looking at terroire could be a useful career, working to find out just why, for example Jersey Royals taste so good and are there other places where a similar result could be obtained 
The I hit a major problem with this. Imagine the scene you turn up at JFK Airport on your way to a major conference... “ May I ask the nature of your visit?” “Business”. “And that would be?” “Terroir”. “You what Sir?” “Terroir, I am an international Terroirist specialising in Terroirism” “Come with me, Harry get the gloves!!”

Perhaps I will seek a career in other fields.
When a blogger prattles on about filing, the environment and alternative employment you might form the opinion that it is a slow news day. Not so! It is the world’s slowest news day, several seasons passed between breakfast and lunch, And up to a decade by bedtime.
Somedays you just do not do anything newsworthy, nobody drags you out to an unexpected party or pint, your house is not invaded by rabid waterbuffalo, Ballycotton Island does not turn into a localised volcano,


(This did not actually happen)
a lesser person could become jaded, nay bored. BUT, after eight high pressure weeks with another four to go sometimes a day like that is just what you need.