Saturday, 27 November 2010

Moose and Caraque Heads

Friday and only one more before we finish. Tradition ruled as Fish would dominate the menu and the possibility of Frites Gate 2 was hanging in the air. I would not be involved in either though others in Kitchen 1 would make fresh Scampi, Salt and Pepper Squid, things in assorted breadcrumbs, two types of batter would adorn Monkfish and Black (Dover) Sole and Fresh Prawns and Shrimp would also appear with the full range of sauces and dips to accompany them. The Chips would be “Choose your own variety” and Mushy Peas made the Ballymaloe way would take centre stage.

None of this Piscean mayhem would affect me as I had French Onion Soup and a Silky Chocolate Mousse to make.
Three pounds of onions fell victim to the flashing blade of my Cook’s knife the shredded remains being consigned to meet 3 oz of butter and a long slow sweat over very low heat to caramelise without burning. Cooked uncovered and on a heat diffuser I anticipated that it would be about an hour before the stock could be added.
On then to the Silky Chocolate Mousse. You may have worked out that the classic cookery which we learn at Ballymaloe does nothing the easy way. You want to put the Mousse in a Chocolate Cup? First make the cup.
Good dark chocolate was melted down and painstakingly painted onto the inside of a bun case. For stability two were used and the cup had to be held to the light on a regular basis to ensure that there were no thin areas. It took me till my third to realise that if I put them in a bun tin they would be perfectly circular though the freehand examples have a certain rustic charm. A couple of weeks ago a visiting speaker told us that Artisan is a synonym for Inconsistent. My Artisanal Chocolate Cups certainly matched that description though the moulded later forms would grace any dining table in the land.
The Mousse involved melting Chocolate. This time with the addition of butter and water and then egg yolks and Rum were whisked on before the stiffened egg whites were beaten in. Counter intuitively this makes for a smooth and, indeed, silky mousse. Poured into the cooled and set cups this was in turn set aside to chill.
It is a rule that nothing leaves the Ballymaloe kitchen without garnish, so stage 3, make Chocolate Caraque for decoration. Let me see, melt some chocolate. Now this is one of the techniques which we have to master so having done it three times today I got it ticked off three times! Once melted the chocolate is spread very thinly on a cool surface to set then shaved or cut into attractive decorations.
Oh yes and there had to be a Rum flavoured cream piped on to the finished cups so Rum made its second appearance of the day. To test the consistency of the whipped and flavoured cream I spread a little over the surface of the coffee that I had just poured myself thus guaranteeing quality and a sneaky mid morning snifter at the same time.
But what of the French Onion Soup I hear the loyal reader cry. If I were Michael Winner I would be responding “Cal Down, Calm Down – it’s only a soup”. But I am not and the Rum cream was looking more attractive by the second. The Chocolate adventure had taken about an hour and a half but the onions were nowhere near caramelised or sufficiently reduced.
Whilst others around me battered, crumbed, fried, sauced, chipped or plated, I stirred. And stirred. And stirred, the volume diminishing with glacial progress and the onion slowly moving through the Dulux colour chart – White, Off White, Magnolia, Deep Magnolia – you get the picture. I was looking for Deep Ochre or Burnt Umber but began to wonder whether the course would have ended before the reduction process. Deep depression set in and I wondered whether it was worth finishing the dish, afterall there are only 24 hours in the day

Eventually, around 12:15 I was able to put in the stock and season. Just the rounds of toasted crouton and the grated Gruyere topping to go. 12:45 I had plated and was ready for a tasting.
But back to the Chocolate. The Rum cream was piped on, the Caraque added to the presentation and some finely sliced Orange Peel was added to one as I had noted a hint of Orange flavour in one Mousse even though there was none in the recipe. An edible garnish (Mint to you was added to complete the dish and by 1pm – about an hour after I had intended I finished.

Fortunately the tasting went well and I felt somewhat better for the finishing.
Demo returned to my favourite ungulate Lamb and a demonstration of how to cut a Rack of Lamb from the full side and how to create a Crown of Lamb followed. Fortunately I will not be doing either dish on Monday as my new and surprisingly male partner Shane will be tackling the Lamb. I shall enter the wonderful world of Meringue having missed it earlier in the course.

Demo was disrupted as an elderly visitor suffered a medical mishap, luckily all was well, and I left for the Trip to Tipp having had a productive week and looking forward to returning to where it all began – Kitchen 3 – for the last full week of cooking. Have I learned much? You bet. Can I learn more? You bet.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Frost, Frites and Fish

Following the coldest night of the year there was a deep frost and leaves as brittle as my chances of passing the Wine exam crunched and collapsed under my feet as I headed for another day of cooking - only 7 left now!

Today I would be reunited with my Puff Pastry in an attempt to produce a credible dessert, pan fry some Chicken Livers and also make not only Parsnip Crisps but yet more Frites. I think there must be a degree of confusion and someone misheard a comment about a  deep, fat, fryer as I tend to spend many hours per week next to the one appliance that my beloved wife will not let me have. Today there would be an incident of such significance that Darina had to step in to rule on the dispute.

Frites Gate started with a bunch of humble chips. Cut into 1/4 inch batons, rested in acidulated water, lovingly dried and blanched in a 160degree fryer they were rested and then returned to a 190 fryer to finish. The Frites a golden yellow, crispy on the outside, fluffily tasty on the inside and not a milligram of grease in sight were a great hit with my colleagues but not with the teachers. They are underdone, they should be brown. Revolt broke out as colleagues declared them perfect "Like McDonald's but tasty" was one accolade. "That's how we like them" was another. As no reasonable solution was likely and as the evidence diminished as each new participant in the debate had to try them to form an opinion it was agreed that the Headmistress would give a ruling.

The net result was that they went back in to achieve the correct degree of Ballymaloe Brown. The other net result was that no one wanted to eat the little strips of cardboard carbohydrate that now closely resembled the taste of those from a major purveyor of hamburgers to the masses. No photographic evidence exits as the resultant secondary tasting finished the six large potatoes worth that I had cooked. The Parsnip Chips reached the same position on the Pantone chart and the same degree of approval. Still they met the standards expected by the school so no complaints on the marking front.

The Chicken Livers were another matter. Washed and quickly fried in Butter infused with finely grated Ginger and chopped Garlic and plated with a small salad with a Hazelnut Dressing they went down well for taste though it was suggested that the presentation would be enhanced by using petals rather than a whole flower.

The Pastry was retrieved from the fridge, cut in two and one half prepared for a starring role in dessert. A large rectangle had a border attached seamlessly (thanks to a Rory technique) the sides 'knocked up' a pattern applied to the border with the back of a knife, the bottom pricked, an egg wash and was returned to re chill. Half an hour later it was thrust into a preheated oven at 230degrees and, after 15 minutes, turned down to 180 for another 10. Quickly removed any excess pastry from the middle was removed, the pastry returned for 5 minutes to dry out and then an Apricot Glaze applied before it cooled.

Into this gaping chasm a mix of Creme Patisserie and whipped Cream was set as a base and then segmented Orange, Banana and Kiwi Fruit was laid along with (don't snigger) peeled and pipped grapes. This was then covered with a second layer of Apricot Glaze and the whole set aside to chill before presentation.

The result amazed me, especially as far better pastry makers had problems with sagging sides or minimal rising. "You've cracked it" said a teacher, "Hmmm" thought I.

The afternoon concentrated on Fish and Chips, not always connected in that manner. Salt and Pepper Squid, Frito Misto of Seafood, oven baked Plaice and really upmarket Mushy Peas were some of the highlights along with some stunning Crab Cakes. There was also an amazing range of Chocolate or Orange Mousses on view and on tomorrow's menu. The Demo ran late and the additional Wine Lecture due to start at 6 was more like 6:30 and it was gone 8 before we got home. Not good as at 8 tomorrow I shall be making Stock for the entire School before starting my dishes!! Still in the evening it's time for the Trip to Tipp for Thanksgiving Dinner in Cashel courtesy of Jacqui fro our house.

Finally Quote of the Day "Darina, Did I miss something or is that fish you put in the oven about an hour ago still there?"

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Fun with Finger Food Followed by Fear and Fish (not)

Lectures dominate Wednesdays here but today we would have two Demos.

After the usual introduction to more cheeses - French Goats Cheeses this time - we settled down to a major demonstration of canapes.

These little handfuls of pure dynamic taste have lots of uses, many as informal starters for meals, but can be used for posh meetings and events, provided for others Dinner Parties or just sold in your local Farmers Market. Done well they are a delight poorly exercised they can destroy an event before it starts.

Canape theory dominated the beginning, when to serve, how to serve, balancing the offerings - hot and cold, meat and vegetarian, sweet and savoury - the kinds of bases that can be used, what to serve with them, what kind of serving dishes and containers may be used, the importance of rubbish receptacles etc.etc.

Then on to the making. Puff Pastry was transformed by the addition of anchovies, miniature Cottage Pies with piped toppings fresh from the oven, satay, kebabs - meat, vegetable, cheese based and fish, Quails Eggs with dressings and spices, Hard boiled Quails eggs on their own but cunningly presented, mini quiches, cunning little containers made from the cheapest possible and otherwise horrible pan bread. To accompany them a whole range of dips and small salads, marinades and dressings.

About the only thing that did not come up was the traditional Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog, but hey this is Ballymaloe and retro may be good- but class is everything.The old favourite Parma Ham and Melon did get a mention as Darina said "It didn't get to be a classic by being bad" but was not demonstrated. Parma Ham wrapped around good Figs or Dates warranted a mention as did Bacon or Prosciutto wrapped around Oysters though the humble Prawn Cocktail- even in tiny portions or filling one lettuce leaf did not. Mini Yorkshire Puddings with a sliver of steak and a Horseradish Cream made the final lineup but a similar dish - a cocktail sausage and onion chutney as a mini Toad in the Hole did not.

All in all an entertaining and worthwhile morning.

Note cunning use of real birds nest for the hard boiled Quail Eggs

Lunchtime saw the return of the Lamb Madras so yet another day where I had soup followed by er nothing.

It was shock time next: We got the day and time for our final exam cooking. I got 12:30 on Wednesday. At least this means that it is not a 7:30 start and I have Thursday to revise for the three exams on Friday.

It also meant that I had to hand in my menu and list of ingredients. I have chosen

Consomme Julienne

Pan Fried John Dory with
Creamed Spinach
Melted Leeks with Peppers
Herby Mashed Potato

Caramelised Banana Tart

I will also have to cook an as yet unknown bread.

The afternoon dealt with Sushi. About the only salient point which I remember is that Sushi is only the rice, and unless Sushi Rice is used it ain't Sushi. Likewise unless the traditional cooking method is used it ain't Sushi. Oh yes and Sashimi is Raw Fish.

Tomorrow we cook and then have the final and "most important" Wine Lecture ahead of the exam at 8am next Wednesday. What I know about wine is as much as David Cameron knows about poverty so- unless my patented method of dealing with multiple choice questions actually works I am unlikely to leave with a Certificate in Wine Knowledge.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

On Every Street - Squid U Like

Even though I arrived in the kitchen by 7:50, a time by when several keen types would be working away, it was empty, deserted, dead.
I was there early to tackle Puff Pastry, only Croissants remain, and whilst the work takes only 10 minutes or so there are hours of downtime whilst pastry chills. If you are limited to three hours cooking you may not get it done in time. This would not matter if we returned to the kitchen after lunch but we don't we head for Demo to see what we will cook next. So an early start to get the pastry off to a flying start.

The actual work involved today was fairly straightforward, Squid with Garlic and Chilli Butter, Lassi and cooking off Poppadoms. On then to the Garlic and Chilli Butter, lots of chopping, dicing and crushing

followed by beating of butter, combining with chopped items and rolling into a thin sausage before being chilled until needed to fry the squid.

Once safely in the fridge I made the Lassi which would accompany the Lamb Madras which my partner was making. A simple combination of Youghurt, Ice, Water, Sugar and Rose Water, blitzed in a liquidiser, the Lassi can be either sweet or salty and can include suitable fruits - think Indian Smoothie and you are on the way.

"Can you do a White Soda? we think that there is a problem with the flour." How could I refuse? it takes moments and my breads are falling behind. So a quick knock up, turning out, cutting and into an oven for 45 minutes. The result indicated that there may not be too much wrong with the flour.

So as the morning progressed I made my way to the deep fat fryer to knock up my allocation of Poppadoms. To fit them into the fryer you have to put them in sideways then fold in half under the oil - using tongs - and half again. The result is a puffy, crispy fan of tastefulness but probably useless for the Pickle Tray!!

Ok so now the Squid. I got to choose mine somewhat later than others, as a result I had the kind of behemoth usually seen in engravings of entire ships being dragged into the depths.

He filled my chopping board

but a bit of nifty knife work combined with some strong hand action (steady on, steady on) had him reduced to something cookable and not likely to be attacking Captain Nemo in the near future.

Cleaned up the squid would next appear in a hot pan before being plated for tasting.
In the meantime the Puff Pastry had all three rolls and relevant rests and was sent to the fridge to be ready for cooking on Thursday.

Plating time came and, whilst I did not have the nerve to put up a Poppadom the newly cooked squid and the lassi did make it.

Rated as very tasty by the teacher I took advantage of another early finish to have lunch, well some breads and Poppadom and Pickles as  Lamb Madras was not going to be on my menu.

Rory took Demo and had obviously heard that Pam had got in on the 'dismembering poor Innocent ingredients' act as he proceeded to reduce a giant fillet of Tuna to steaks for searing later.

Various uses for Puff Pastry were also demonstrated indicating that my personal stash will be removed from the fridge and converted on Thursday. Rory also demonstrated Croissant Pastry and provided 'Quote of the Day' " 90% of Croissants just melt - into a lardy, doughy sea of nothingness".

Monday, 22 November 2010

Big Macs and Sliced Squid

Monday Week 10, only three more weeks to go, only 9 cooking days, only three written exams, a practical and a wine exam to go - then we go.

A lot of thought has been going into the final exam menu, it needs to be a balanced meal, seasonal, nutritious, not repetitive of flavours or colours, demonstrating some techniques and just to top all it has to be for a reason and to match that reason.

So today we cooked Burgers and Chips!! Perhaps we were getting that all important career advice " Do you want chips with that?" and the follow up "Do you want to go large?" Actually a really good burger made from good cuts of well hung meat, seasoned superbly and pan grilled with a good range of accompaniments can be a thing of beauty. We were starting with organic Angus beef and a range of fresh ingredients, we should have done well by any standard.

The Chips were to come in all sorts of ways ranging from Pommes Allumettes (matchstick size) or Frites (1/4 inch batons) to Wedges and Buffalo Chips. Each required cooking at a different temperature and many required two or even three cooking processes. I actually drew Frites and a frenzy of geometrically accurate dicing and slicing ensued. My partner for the week got the Buffalo Chips (Wedges with their jackets on) so we saw little of each other the fryers being in different locations.

My other main dish was a Caramelised Banana Cake, a kind of classy upside down cake in which the caramel coats the banana and provides a lovely toffee, sticky topping to a light sponge which has mashed banana running through it.

On Friday Darina had challenged non-American students to come up with a Burger representing their own country. I came up with Byrgyr Tan y Ddraig in which onions are replaced by leeks and chilli produces the heat of the Dragon Fire. The addition of a couple of smoked streaky rashers would give the smoke for the fire but today I did not use them. I had given a copy of the recipe in to the office and was surprised to find it being distributed to all students this afternoon. The original idea had been simply that Darina knew what I was doing, however it is very flattering for the recipe to be considered good enough to hand out.

This was the high point which stood in stark contrast to the low point of the day. You will recall the self combusting biscuits of last week. Today I got to cook them again. This time the temperature was right and with an anticipated cooking time of 40 minutes I set the alarm for 35, and went about other business. Little did I know that the alarm on the cooker did not work - or at least did not give an audible indication of the passing of time.

Rescued from the oven after a 33 minute over run the resultant biscuits could probably have formed an emergency repair kit for any Space Shuttles that lost a few tiles on the way up. Alternatively a 16th Century explorer such as Vasco Da Gama would have been pleased to have such an indestructible ships biscuit on board, Bligh might still command the Bounty had he fed them to Fletcher Christian and Co.  Consigned to the great dustbin of history the offensive comestibles would no longer cause me concern, until the next time I am expected to make them and that is once a week on average!!

Lunchtime loomed and I had to plate my dishes. The Burger Buns were not available so my burger was served as a deconstucted burger with the layers that would have been bun enclosed being laid bare but in order. The Banana Cake was served with brown sugar and a Rum infused Chantilly cream and the frites accompanied the Burger.

The tastes were superb and went down very well with my teacher.A little personal tasting and then to Demo.

Squid and curry were the order of the day, a Mild Madras being accompanied by the widest possible range of sauces, raitas and breads. The Curry was Lamb and, such is the mania for swordsmanship amongst the demonstrators that today Pam removed the bone from an entire leg of Lamb to provide the 2lbs of meat required.

Tomorrow I shall not be coking or tasting lamb but I will practice my own D'Artagnan on the slightly more acquiescent squid, before frying it off.

Oh yes I have decided on my exam meal but will keep it under wraps until I have to hand it in on Thursday.

If anyone wants the Byrgyr Tan y Ddraig recipe contact me via comments with your email address and I will forward it.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Last night’s Thanksgiving Dinner was great. The menu, of bbq bruschetta for canap├ęs, then a Turkey stuffed with Bacon, Parsley and Lemon stuffing, a Gammon cooked in Cider and Apples...Bread Sauce, Cranberry Sauce, home grown Artichokes, Carrots, Parsnips, Potatoes, Cabbage...then for dessert...pies!!!! Apple, Pecan and Sweet Potato, was epic. Lauren and Madison had really pulled out all the stops. Others from the house and surrounding cottages had decorated superbly and the Mulled Wine served in Jam Jars set the evening up to go well.

Around 40 people attended, including some of the teachers and staff, and the well supported raffle raised additional funding for the India Project. As Darina had offered to match whatever was raised by the evening and raffle a substantial sum should be forthcoming.
The evening proved two things to me, apart from being great fun; that 62 strangers can gel into a really cohesive group within ten weeks – a group that will stay together after we leave in December- and that there is a Ballymaloe Community into which we have been accepted without reservation. It says a lot for the School and its ethos that we all feel this way.
I made my exit around 11:30, the Red Bull having ceased to deliver the ability to stay longer and walked back across grounds, silvery in the moonlight. The temperature was plummeting and a hard frost looked likely but with the prospect of a glorious day to follow.
Sunday as you will know means practicing the Ironing technique – at which I am improving. I feel that I should, at this stage, issue a reminder to Mrs K that the basic premise of our entire relationship is that I Cook and you Iron or, to put it more accurately, that you do not cook and I do not iron. Any variation from this would render the contract null and void.
My weekly battle with the heating and pressing implement over I settled down for a nice cup of coffee and some rather nice toasted Sourdough with Seville Orange Marmalade. Tomorrow we shall be cooking burgers so for lunch or tea I shall have one of Dan Ahearne’s organic Burgers- once it has defrosted.

The day was too good to waste so, the filing complete, I took a stroll through the grounds and used this as a reason to dump several days worth of rubbish in the recycling area. Luckily I had a reusable bag with me for trash expulsion purposes so on the way back I recycled some fallen branches and twigs – blown down in the recent storms - into fire production resources.

On the way there and back the signs of Autumn were all around, very few leaves on twigs- but lots on the ground, frost lingering in some shaded areas,

and a powerful sun so low in the sky that shadows were immense.

The best Sunday I have ever spent? Maybe not but it is up there in the premier division, and somewhere along the way I managed to fit in a short bike ride.