Sunday, 27 May 2012

Ballymaloe Week Four Highlights

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. 

2. Is there anything prettier than Lemon Meringue Pie?

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.

6. Getting very domestic in the pink cottage with freshly picked flowers.

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.

12. This week we dived into our first white yeast bread and were shown how to make all sorts of different loaves ranging from simple rolls and plaits to fougasse, bread sticks and this amazing sunflower bread, which I want to attempt next week….

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ballymaloe Week Three Highlights

Monday 14th May – Sunday 20th May

Tackling seafood in kitchen 1!

1. Monday we died and went to seafood heaven with the most amazing Dublin Bay prawns.

2. On Tuesday I made the simple sounding, tedious to make, and utterly delicious Chard and Gruyere Gratin. Note to self: 1kg of freshly picked chard leaves take far more than the ten minutes I allotted myself to wash and drain them!
3. Shepherd’s pie made with minced, left-over lamb can be beautiful when you get busy with a piping bag (pictured is one of Rory’s demo pies)

4. On Wednesday I roasted my first ever guinea fowl complete with onion stuffing and parsnips and game chips. The secret is to cook it draped with a piece of butter-soaked muslin which keeps it moist while still allowing the skin to turn a golden brown. The taste is like a slightly gamier chicken and the meat is only brown –I loved this little bird.
5. Warm salad of Gubbeen Bacon with Poached Egg, Caesar Dressing and Parmesan. In our headmistress’ words, this classic and delicious salad is only as good as its ingredients i.e. fresh free-range eggs, thick bacon lardons and a homemade dressing.

6. ‘Cooking for Pleasure and Profit’, an all-day lecture held on Thursday and led by Darina’s sister, Blathnaid Bergin, who is a restaurant advisor: An amazingly interesting and interactive day which covered everything from minimising food waste (she had some incredible true-life stories of chefs who would throw away 50% of their food orders) to the nitty-gritty of starting up a business and catering tips.

7. On Friday we were all cooking with the left-over chicken meat from roasting on Wednesday. Cue a fabulous lunch buffet of Vietnamese chicken salad, curried chicken with mango (my favourite), filo chicken pies and a mexican dish called chilaquiles verdes o rojos.

8. That same morning we had a cake baking competition (see pic of my kitchen’s efforts – with mine bottom left). I was down for the legendary ‘Aunt Florence’s Orange Cake’ but I mistakenly managed to produce a bastardised version by covering it entirely in butter-cream instead of the assigned glacé icing – quelle horreur! No amount of covering it in toasted almonds and rose petals seemed to appease the judges either!

9. Liberty Grill Café, 32 Washington St, Cork. On Saturday, some friends and I visited this little slice of America which serves the often-elusive all day brunch. Small but buzzy, it serves just what I wanted on a gloomy Irish afternoon - a stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup. We also had a delicious mushroom soup and my American roomie munched through her burger in silent patriotic-bliss!

10. Beautiful new-season tomatoes ready to be dressed basil, olive oil and honey at the Friday demo.

11. Saturday night dancing at The Blackbird pub in Ballycotton!

12. Sunny Sunday cycle ride to Knockadoon Head on Sunday followed by very strong tea and cake at the beach on Sunday afternoon. 

My summer fruit salad with sweet geranium leaves

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Ballymaloe Week Two Highlights

Monday 7th May – Sunday 13th May

1. Learning how to joint a chicken and remembering to cut round the ‘oyster’. 

2. The Wednesday demo on learning how to make lots of different cheeses and yogurt with Darina and Eddie O’Neill (an artisan dairy specialist).

3. I learnt that cheese as a pudding doesn’t have to be cheesecake – Mato is a homemade curd cheese and is delicious topped with honey, fresh figs, toasted pine nuts and mint. Alternatively, the French dish Coeur a la Crème is just a mixture of cottage cheese, cream, stiff egg whites and sugar, drained in a muslin-lined heart-shaped mould overnight. It can be served with fresh berries and a fruit coulis.  

4. Similarly, homemade yoghurt can be an unusual and delicious Indian pudding when mixed with exotic spices. We were shown a recipe called Shrikhand, which is simply thick homemade yoghurt drained overnight. To this is added saffron water, sugar and crushed cardamom seeds. Darina served this sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts in a tall, glass bowl which looked très élégante.

5. The sea view from the top of the lane down past the cookery school.

6. Brighter-than-lemons rape flower fields everywhere on my Sunday bike ride.

7. Favourite dish of the week: fluffy lemon pudding demonstrated by Rachel Allen. So simple and not particularly WOW but serendipitously heavenly with thick cream.

8. Watching half a lamb being butchered by Philip – so that’s how it all connects!

9. The mounds of fresh herbs from the gardens (including beautiful bronze fennel) used to great effect to garnish the roast leg of lamb.

10. Flame-haired Pam’s demo including my favourite pear, walnut and blue cheese salad – the pears were chargrilled and the nuts were candied and spiced, which made it even better!

11. Walking through the gardens at dusk.

12. Sunday roast! In the guise of diligent cookery students, the pink cottage crew picked up an organic chicken at the Midleton farmers market to practice our new jointing ‘skills’ (ahem). Once we’d jointed (and at times hacked - sorry Darina) the chuck we roasted it South African style on a bed of rosemary, fennel fronds and sage with parsnips, carrots and sweet potato, drizzled with olive oil and lime juice and served with coconut rice. So good!

Monday, 7 May 2012


I feel like one of the luckiest foodie people in the world right now having just begun the certificate cookery course at Ballymaloe near Cork in Ireland! I have wanted to attend for literally years and, one week in, am still pinching myself that I am here (and, indulged kid adult that I am, my long-suffering dad is the angel I have to thank!).

So many people have written brilliant week-by-week blogs of their time at Ballymaoe (see the page on the school website) so I thought in this blog I would just post twelve highlights each weekend as the twelve weeks slip by.

Week One
Monday 30th April – Sunday 6th May 2012

12. The Pink Cottage's Mexican bean dip

1. Driving my little yellow Fiat packed with luggage, Mum and bike from Hampshire to County Cork. Then collapsing into bed at the gorgeous Newtown House b&b on the banks of the Blackwater estuary opposite Youghal. 
Newtown House run by the lovely Georgie and Michael Penruddock

The view from our bedroom

2. Arriving at the school on Saturday and finding that my accommodation is like something out of a fairytale. Pink Cottage by name and Pink Cottage by nature as it is full of girls!

2. Pink Cottage with The Barn beyond

3. Meeting sixty other food-obsessed students.

4. The realisation that our headmistress, Darina Allen, is one very influential lady and a force to be reckoned with!

5. The fact that inspiring chefs and food producers keep popping in for lunch and then being pulled into the demo room by Darina to give us words of wisdom. This week alone we met cheesemaker Giana Ferguson, of the award-winning Gubbeen Cheese and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in California (gulp), who, coincidentally, came up with the idea for the Obama’s vegetable patch at the White House.

6. The hilariously 80s ‘How to handle wine’ video they showed us in our first wine lecture – Hugh Johnson is a legend!

7. Penne with Tomatoes, Chorizo and Cream – possibly the easiest dish I made all week but my favourite by far.

8. The beautiful garden with its ready supply of herbs and colourful herbaceous borders flanked by yew hedges.

9. Learning how to make cheese with Tim Allen in the dairy – who knew curd tastes so good?

10. The Saturday Midleton farmers market: small but perfectly formed.

11. Finding that there are not one but three resident doggies – one of which made herself very comfortable beside our fire on Sunday evening!

11. Enjoying Made in Chelsea
12. Saturday Mexican night! Every cottage concocted some dishes to create one big Mexican feast and party. The Pink Cottage contributed a bean salsa salad (see pic below), an amazing pulled chicken enchilada stack and heavenly churros rolled in cinnamon sugar. YUM.

Making Churros