Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ballymaloe Week Eight Highlights

1. On Monday morning I had to cook Roast Duck with Sage and Onion Stuffing, Roast Potatoes and Gravy. Easy peasy right? But throw in a new kitchen, my decision to also make bread, pesto and Roasted Tomato, Pesto and Ricotta Bruschetta and a cameraman who just always seemed to be in my way (yes, they are filming our course) and I was running around like a stressed chicken. The duck was from Nora Aherne, who supplies Ballymaloe House as I mentioned and it is absolutely delicious, although very expensive at 25euro for a duck that serves five people max. After a fight with my carving knife, I eventually plated a half decent looking dish much to my relief.

2. We started off the week by learning how to smoke salmon. To demonstrate how easy it is, Darina showed us how you could make your own smoker with an old (large) biscuit tin lined with a rack. So on Tuesday I made the Salad of Hot Smoke Salmon, Ruby Beetroot, Horseradish Cream and Watercress which was very pretty and summery. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned but Ballymaloe will only use wild organic salmon which is only available in the summer months so it is such a treat when they do get it (and far better in colour and taste to farmed salmon).

3. That day I also made the Lemon Tart with Lemon Ice-Cream and Candied Julienne of Lemon Peel which involved a LOT of work so I didn’t even have a chance to make my mid-morning tea I am usually desperate for. Unfortunately, due to running around I didn’t notice my rogue oven was hotter than I had expected which meant my filling bubbled rather than poached which resulted in a less smooth filling. It still tasted good though!

4. After Tuesday’s demo I had arranged a chat with Darina to talk jobs. This involves making her tea (loose of course!) and a biscuit or cake. That morning I’d also made a Lemon and Poppyseed traybake, so that was my offering (‘Dee-Licious!’). It was rather a whirlwind chat as I had suspected, but it gave me a little nudge to get my act together.

5. On Wednesday morning we had a fabulous vegetarian demonstration. I will never give up meat (slow cooked stews would never be the same without meat and mmm steak…) but with the exotic spices, produce and foreign cookery techniques now readily available, vegetarian cooking can be just as delicious and possibly more exciting than many meat dishes. I will never forget an amazing meal had at terre á terre, a (veggie) restaurant in Brighton, and this demo reminded me of how much I love wholesome, vegetable based dishes (perhaps accompanied by some marinated and grilled meat). Of the many colourful dishes cooked up for lunch were Skye Gyngells Chickpeas with Chilli, Lime, Tamarind and Coriander, Tabouleh, Herby Quinoa, Daal, Onion Bhajis with Tomato and Chilli Sauce, Chedder Cheese Croquettes (apparently they can’t take these cheesy morsels of the Ballymaloe House Sunday buffet), Vegetarian Chilli (using Soya mince which sounds horrid but you really could not tell the difference) and Cheese Fondue.

Deep-fried Prawns, Haddock, Squid, Mussels &Courgette Flower
Seared Salmon with Hollandaise
Rachel’s Thai Crab Cake with Dipping Sauce
Salsa, Tartare Sauce & Lemon

Fritto Misto

7. School Trip! On Thursday, dressed in wellies (raining again!) we all piled into a coach for a foodie tour. First stop was Mahon Point farmers market which is held in the rather uninspiring site of Mahon Point Shopping Mall. Interestingly it was set up about a decade ago to increase mid-week shopper traffic at the newly opened mall. Within a couple of weeks numbers had soared. With three gourmet coffee stalls, two fishmongers, a few butchers, vegetable stalls, a rotisserie and lots more, the market functions as a place to do all your food shopping as well as a place to pick up a delicious lunch or snack which keeps it from being a tourist attraction such as Borough Market where the planners have allowed the balance to tip more towards ready food rather than produce stalls.

8. After a delicious steak and mustard mayo baguette (at 11am!), cappuccino and with a hoard of Irish Strawberries, Stuffed Vine Leaves and Humus we set off for Toons Bridge Dairy. A few years back, much to the amusement of the locals, Johnny Lynch and Toby Simmons imported Italian water buffalos into Ireland and began to produce dairy products using their milk. A few years later, their delicious mozzarella, ricotta and feta is in demand and the dairy (plus 60+ buffalo) is now based at Toby and his wife’s home. It was really interesting to see the mozzarella balls being made expertly by Toby and helpers, and tasting the cheese before the salt is added. We also wandered around the gorgeous gardens and vegetable patches created by his wife and it made me laugh how as soon as we arrived, Darina was ordering a stream of cakes and tea urns to be taken from the coach and laid out in the conservatory – never have I had breakfast, lunch and teatime before 1pm!
9. On a separate note, they had just opened a minute little shop from which they sell all their buffalo cheeses, deli products imported from Italy along with local ceramics. It was all beautifully done, see pics. 

10. On Friday I made some Fish and Chips with Minted Mushy Peas, along with some Focaccia. One of the things that surprised me at Ballymaloe, is how much they use a deep-fat fryer, but Darina is adamant that it isn’t so bad as long as good olive oil is used and you drain properly so everything is crisp not dripping in oil. Hmmm. Regardless, I got another chance to practice filleting a round fish (Pollock in the case), and the beer batter it was cooked in was incredibly light.

11. That afternoon Pam & Emer demoed working with filo pastry and made some to-die-for Baklava and a ‘Moroccan Snake’. Pam also made beautiful little Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls with Shrimp and a Dipping Sauce.

12. On Saturday two housemates and I went to explore Kinsale – the prettiest seaside town just beyond Cork. Escaping the pelting rain we went to the Perryville Garden Tea Room which was recommended to us by Darina as it is run by a past student. Attached to the Perryville Guest House run by her parents the small café is unexpectantly luxurious and a little French in feel with mismatched china and taupe upholstered seating. Sweet things like a fluffy gooseberry roulade, raspberry and almond squares and a nectarine and almond tart were so pretty and are displayed in glass cases. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Ballymaloe Weeks Six & Seven Highlights

Elderflower and Gooseberry Tart &
New Potato, Broad Bean, Feta and Hazelnut Salad at Tuesday's Demo

1. On Tuesday (week 6) we all had a go at cutting our own steaks. Here's Gary cutting it off the bone. 

2. On Wednesday, we followed a morning wine tasting with a tapas demonstration by Darina which was accompanied by a Sherry tasting! Colm McCan (the very enthusiastic Sommelier at Ballymaloe House who takes our classes with Peter Corr of Febvre Wine Merchants) is desperate for us all to appreciate fine Sherry which he argues has been severely misused over the years. 'Would you offer a foreigner a thimble of Guinness? No! Then why do people outside of Spain drink Sherry out of teeny little glasses like it's medicine?'. He also lamented the fact that people keep Sherry in their drinks cabinet for months when it ought to be drunk (chilled) within a week if Fino or Manzanillo or within 3-4 weeks for other styles. Sweet styles however can be kept for months due to their sugar levels. We tried a light style followed by a darker Oloroso - both of which I found incredibly strong even with the salty tapas (such as salt cod on bruschetta and potatas bravas) which Colm insisted we eat in tandem - I obviously need to acquire a taste for it! We finished with Pedro Ximenez sherry which is almost syrup-like in it's sweetness and is apparently delicious over ice-cream. 
Tatsoi Salad Leaf

3. On Friday we had our (much dreaded) herb/salad recognition midterm test plus a technique exam. Not exactly a highlight but most of the short week 7 was taken up by desperate walks around the greenhouse trying to identify just what sets apart a Green Mustard leaf from a Mizuna leaf and frantic jointing of (non-organic) chickens.

4. Gluten-free cooking with Rosemary Kearney. Unfortunately this wasn’t a revelation – Gluten-free cooking still produces denser, crumblier cakes and pastry! But Kearney gave me a far greater understanding of the intolerance. She highlighted that many restaurants still do not take gluten-free cooking seriously enough believing it to be more fad and a medically proven allergy. Restaurants with gluten-free dishes must be prepared before dishes with gluten in or in an entirely separate room as only a dot of flour is enough to make someone ill.

5. Cooking mussels in a spiced coconut cream broth makes a great change and is delicious.

6. On Tuesday I got to work on a Pâté de Campagne which involved layering several different meats along with pistachios into a rasher-lined cake tin. After being chilled and pressed overnight it was turned out and then served in slices with a Confiture d’Oignons. A bit of a faff but it looks impressive (I think?) and is surprisingly moreish although as filling as several meats compacted into a terrine can be!

7. Dish of the week: Sticky toffee pudding. I’ve always thought this pudding to be sweet and stodgy but the Ballymaloe recipe (both tea and coffee are involved but I can’t say more!) that we used made a sponge that managed to be squidgy and light at the same time – everybody couldn’t get enough. 


Elderflower, Gooseberries, Cucumbers, Courgettes, Courgette Flowers and Rocket.

One of my favourite things about the course is that we cook with ingredients picked that morning by the gardeners (and the few sleepy students on salad duty that day). On Wednesday I turned this bounty into a Zucchini Carpaccio, some Buttered Cucumber with Fennell to go with Poached Organic Irish Salmon and a Gooseberry & Elderflower Tart.

9. The coolest Pig in school…

10. On Thursday I tentatively entered the Ballymaloe House Kitchen to spend an evening watching service. The restaurant is based on tradition, seasonality and Irish produce and the passion for these three things by the team is undoubtable. Unfortunately it was a quiet night with only 34 covers – the chefs actually managed to slip out to watch the Ireland v. Spain game towards the end of service! But I got to have a good snoop around the surprisingly large kitchens and head chef Jason showed me the cold store full of hanging meat including several beef joints which were waiting to be roasted for a big wedding the next day.

Snippets from that evening’s menu:

Thursday 14th June 2012

Knocklara Ewe’s Milk Cheese & Almond Salad with Pomegranate Seeds & Honey
Pea, Chili & Coriander Soup
Grilled Ballycotton Herring with Mustard Butter
Potato Gnocchi with Artichoke, Smoked Bacon & Parmesan Cream
Sauté of Chicken Livers with Marsala and Raisins on Grilled Bread
Poached Ballycotton Monkfish with Scallops, Hollandaise Sauce & Buttered Cucumber
Fillets of Ballycotton Mackerel with Clams and Garden Herb Butter
Traditional Roast Goose with Potato & Apple Stuffing, Bramley Apple Sauce & Piquant Beetroot
Jason’s Spiced & Braised Lamb with Cumin, Coriander, Lemon and White Turnips
Irish Farmhouse Cheese
Ballymaloe Desserts
Tea or Coffee with Petit Fours

70.00euro (incl 9% VAT)

Some things I picked up...

  • They never have just one supplier for, say, beef which keeps standards high. Having said that, they have been ordering their duck and geese from a lady down the road called Nora Aherne for the past 40 years as her fowl have a wonderful farmyard flavour which surpasses all others (the roast goose was incredibly succulent and memorable).
  • Second helpings are offered of the main for anyone who wants more!
  • The orders for each table are written (rather cryptically) by the waiters on a white board in the kitchen which means that service is eerily quiet,  with the occasional banter between chefs.
  • The pastry kitchen was completely deserted as all the puddings for that evening are usually prepared before 4pm. In the fridge were meringue roulades, Irish Strawberries, Chocolate Tarts and a Gooseberry and Elderflower fool, all waiting to be wheeled out on the dessert trolley. Something so old-school that it seems rather exciting these days. I also tried some of their Petit Fours which including some delicious butterscotch fudge and marzipan-coated strawberries. 

11. With all the cakes and puddings we've been making, this Shaved Fennel and Red Onion Salad felt very healthy and refreshing. It also looks great on a large platter like this. 

12. Derek O'Brians Cheese and Chive Soda Bread recipe - this makes an extremely naughty but delicious loaf. I added some gruyére along with the specified cubes of cheddar and my teacher Pam loved it. Especially good when still warm. 

Caramelized fruit in Demo

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Ballymaloe Week Five Highlights

1. On Monday we had a whole tribe (Flock? Herd?!) of opera singers drop in for lunch as they were performing in nearby Lismore. Needless to say they had to sing for their supper (excuse the pun) and to everybody’s surprise burst into the Barber of Seville in the kitchen garden, then collapsed in fits of giggles.

2. As planned, I attempted to make a sunflower-shaped bread along with a regular white loaf. A sprinkle of cornmeal on the bread gave it a crusty, ciabatta-esque taste which was delicious.

3. Periwinckling! On Tuesday evening we went to the beach to forage for Periwinkles with Emer, and returned with bags full of Mussels! It’s good to know that when all my money runs out, I can forage a free supper, as they were delicious the next day (after soaking), cooked up by some of the students with a cream, garlic and chilli sauce.

4. That same evening, I went a ‘Grow It Yourself’ class in the Ballymaloe House walled gardens with the head gardener Susan. Inside the walls there are greenhouses bursting with all sorts of different salad leaves and exotic herbs all grown specifically for the kitchens. Eileen is a fountain of knowledge and gave all sorts of nifty and thrifty tips. For example, when growing broad beans, they use a wire grid which is moved up as they grow to train them. They also grow their basil in old milk crates.

5. Lemon Curd Cream Profiteroles. While not as delicious as a crème patisserie filling and hot chocolate sauce, these profiteroles, with their pale yellow filling are very pretty. I crystallised some yellow and pale pink rose petals for added pink-cottage-girliness which was a hit in the classroom.

Christiana snapped a flat fish we were filleting eyeing them up!

6. Breakfast for lunch! On Monday Darina demonstrated everything breakfast including pancakes, waffles, a traditional Irish fry, granola, fruit compote’s and some super-energising fresh vegetable juices. As breakfast is pretty much the only reason I get out of bed, I was more than happy to have a déjà vu lunch the next day – especially when we were treated to a Champagne Mimosa alongside our fry up!

7. A pretty Pear Tart must perch on a pear-print plate.

8. Steak demo! On Friday, Rory demonstrated how to cut one’s own steak from the middle section of the cow and then grilled the various cuts and served them with a myriad of sauces (béarnaise, salsa verde, horseradish, mushroom…) and deep fried chips, parmesan crusted cauliflower and onion rings.  The resulting table was my steak heaven!

9. Incredibly fresh vegetables from the garden lined up as crudités.

10. Bank holiday weekend! On Friday evening, myself and three others, packed into Mr Wou (my yellow car) and shot off to Galway for two nights. Being true Ballymaloians, out stomach was the first priority (even though a detox was probably what it needed!). For a light lunch on Saturday we ate at Ard Bia, a tardis-like café set in an unassuming stone building on the docks but packed to the rafters inside with idiosyncratic wall art, mismatched furniture and foodie things for sale. The menu included an all day brunch, along with salads, sandwiches a few mains and then lots of cakes and tarts which greeted on a side table when you walked in. I had an open crab sandwich with poached pear which was deliciously fresh, with bits of apple running through the crab meat.

11. The next day, in bleak, rugged Connemara, we visited Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian walled gardens which were both as ‘wow’ as they look in the pictures.

12. Sunday evening sunset at the beach in Cleggan, Connemara.