Monday 21st – Sunday 27th May
1. Eggy Monday: In other words, omelettes were the technique we practiced on Monday morning over and over and over again. This involved tasting each one too – I love eggs but five omelettes later, plus tables laden with them at lunch almost put me off for life. However, I now can make one in less than 30 seconds and it is incredibly easy. You just need to remember to have a smoking hot pan. Whether I ever cook another omelette again is debatable, but it’s a good trick to have up your sleeve. Pictured right is yet more eggs in my Oaxacan Ricotta and Courgette Flower Frittata.
3. On Tuesday we got to try our hand at filleting round fish. In Monday’s demo, Rory had demonstrated filleting with the most amazing whole wild Salmon – they made a decision never to use farmed salmon so now are limited to the highly seasonal but exquisite tasting wild salmon. As this Salmon costs around 15euro/kg I’m not surprised that we were given Cod to practice with, albeit almost-stiff (i.e. extremely fresh) Ballycotton Cod. Surprisingly I found the fish slightly easier to fillet than jointing a chicken. Cooking the fillets was another matter, which brings me to point 4…
4. Many things went wrong this week, but possibly the worst was when my freshly filleted cod got stuck to my grill pan. As I scraped the unholy mess of flaked fish and burnt skin off onto a serving plate (so I could destroy the evidence by inhaling later) Darina walked in, so I hastily hid it in an oven.
5. On Wednesday afternoon we had an afternoon tea demonstration with Darina which resulted in the demo kitchen piled high with afternoon treats: lemon curd, vanilla and coffee cupcakes, crystallised flowers, a picnic ‘chest’ (i.e. a hollowed out loaf which is filled again with its own bread made into sandwiches), Easter Simnel cake, a whisked up sponge filled with raspberries and cream, drop scones, radish and anchovy sandwiches and so on, all presented beautifully of course with fresh or crystallised flowers and herbs. It was better than tea at the Ritz (apparently). Unfortunately everyone else agreed and I barely had time to take photos before tea was eaten.
7. On Saturday I got up at the unnatural hour of 7am as I was down for a stint at the Crawford Art Gallery Café in Cork. Little did I know when I signed up on that first overcast day, that Saturday 26th May was going to be the hottest day of the year! So at 9am I walked through Cork, laden with people eating breakfast al fresco and into the hot, tiny kitchen. Whining aside, it was great to experience a kitchen in action and allowed me to practice copious amounts of chopping. Chef Mia set me to work prepping mushrooms for omelettes, tomatoes for a salsa going on top of fillets of sea bream as well as parsnips, rhubarb and potatoes. While I have zero experience of restaurant kitchens, the Crawford felt relaxed, with plenty of chatting and music, although the three women chefs, pot washer and three waiters/waitresses were very efficient and never stopped. As the café is part of the Ballymaloe empire, the food is very much in their style with local and seasonal ingredients presented in an informal style. As well as doing breakfast and lunch they also had a great range of cakes on display – I made brownies, an apple frangipane cake, chocolate fridge cake and frangipane tarts alone while I was there! At 2pm, after sampling their delicious chilli monkfish, salmon and chickpea salad, I slunk off into the sun but stupidly had forgotten to take any pictures!
8. Dish of the week: Poached Pears, Sablé Biscuits and Caramel Sauce with Candied Lemon Peel. This was fun to make and, apart from the myriad of ways you can present it (do you want to go for graphic shard biscuits or classic rounds hmm?), I liked the methodical way you can complete each component in advance, and then build it all together. Piping, biscuit, piping, pear, biscuit, piping, lemon peel and sauce. Done.
9. On Thursday Rory demoed a Lamb Tagine with Pistachio and Apricot Cous Cous. I always love tagines, pure foreign comfort food. Here they fry almonds and chopped preserved lemons together and sprinkle on top. They also serve it in beautiful shallow and wide Moroccan bowls, see pic.
10. Not surprisingly the secret behind the delicious Ballymaloe Chicken Liver Pate is 99% butter. Rory showed us a million ways to present it such as in little pots decorated with herbs for a starter, but my favourite were his snails-surfing-on-melba toast canapés.
11. On Friday we were introduced to Oysters, Cockles, Periwinckles and Sea Urchins. The latter, while pretty fascinating, seem more a case of style over substance as I can only describe their taste as sea-water flavoured frogspawn! I am cooking them on Monday (as well as shucking oysters) so will have a second opinion by then.