Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ballymaloe Week 12 Highlights and Two Greedy Girls Eat London

My Cake for the final exam...

1. In the last morning of class on Monday I made Pork en Croute (in homemade puff pastry) with a Duxelle Stuffing and Apple Sauce.

2. That afternoon we had our last demo with Darina which covered boning and stuffing a whole chicken, an effort she pointed out, that always impresses but never tastes as good as chicken roasted on he bone. She also filleted and poached some beautiful Skate and showed us how to butterfly a leg of lamb and joint/cook rabbit into a delicious stew. I always thought I was squeamish, but the sight of a skinned rabbit sans ears, stretched out on the countertop made me appreciate why rabbit isn’t embraced in home kitchens.

3. I loved all the food Rory cooked in his last demo the next morning. In his typical style he showed lots of variations of Beef Carpaccio, some with Parmesan, Rocket & Truffle Oil and others more simply with Olives or Horseradish Mayo and Chives.

4. He also cooked some quail: first roasted in Quail Veronique (a Grape Sauce) and second in a warm salad also with grapes. Then an elegant main of Fillet of Beef with Currants & Armagnac and a Whole Poached Salmon, decorated in his usual just-the –right-side-of-retro flamboyancy.

5. After lots of applause and whooping for the final demo we lunched on the food along with some Prosecco which Christiana had bought for her birthday and this gorgeous cake a teacher had made for her.

Broad beans in the Greenhouse

6. Following on from that, on Wednesday, between revision, the Pink Cottage threw Christiana a birthday breakfast brunch- Aussie Style with Corn Fritters, Bacon, Smashed Avo, Roasted Tomatoes and (left of center) Ali’s Drop Scones with Jam. See her blog for pics: This included yet more Prosecco with Freshly Squeezed Oranges - obviously a cookery students exam fuel of choice!

5. After one and a half days of trying to revise in the hottest weather so far (sod’s law!) at 9am on Thursday morning I had my practical exam. The day before they had drawn bread lots. I had the dreaded White Yeast Rolls. Dreaded as they would take me a lot longer than a soda bread. As I could barely fit all I had to do on my order of work sheet, I was slightly dreading the three-hour time limit! But, considering how the whole thing felt like a race against time – at one point, I was cursing my choice of a boned chicken-thigh dish as I battled, at times elbow-deep (these were monster organic chickens), through filleting two whole chickens, then boning the four thighs as delicately as possible – I crazily enjoyed the whole thing. The resulting dishes were not as neatly plated as I would have liked, as I just didn’t have enough time, but I was pretty proud that I got an epic amount done in a little over the three-hour time limit.

Pollo al Mattone with Sage, Parsley and Garlic Oil,
Green Beans, Roasted Onions and Potato Crisps
Ricotta and Lemon Cake with Italian Fruit
Salad and Crystallised Flowers

6. To my knowledge I have never done 6 hours of written exams back to back, so Friday was like a mini marathon. Whilst a lot of the questions had luckily been covered in my cottage’s huge pile of flash cards there were still lots of enigmas in there such as:  Brioche is a traditional French Christmas Bread – True or False? I still don’t know…answers please?

7. That evening the school threw us a fabulous Farewell Dinner. With fire-lit walkways, great urns of flowers, candles and the terrace draped in Indian fabrics, the school looked far from it’s everyday self. Rory and the teachers cooked up this delicious feast: We had some delicious Strawberry Prosecco and Grilled Tomato Bread for aperetif and then sat down to a meal cooked by Rory and the teachers of Duck & Lentil Broth, Slow-Cooked Lamb with Aioli, Sauce Verde & Green Beans and finished with Peach or Strawberry Popsicles outside.

8. Saturday morning passed in a whirlwind of cleaning, packing and goodbyes. After packing Mr Wou up to the gunnels, complete with bike and my cottage-mate Jenn we sadly left the bucolic foodie paradise to face reality via a week of serious eating in London. 

9. Before hitting London we cooked up a Ballymaloe-style supper for my family: A chicken, jointed, marinaded and bbq-ed served with Roasted cherry tomatoes, a Radish and Cucumber & Mint Salad and a New Potato, Broad Bean, Feta and Toasted Hazlenut Salad. Then Poached Safrron Pears with Cardomom and Yoghurt Creams.

10. With the sun uncharastically beating down, we sacked off London for another day in favour of sailing, swimming and a picnic on East Head Beach with AJ and Rachel. The night before, Jenn and I made my favourite Pain Bagnat which is a small round loaf stuffed with lots of delicious Mediterranean ingredients (olives, peppers, salami, tapenade etc.) and weighed down overnight. The whole loaf was devoured by four hungry sailors in about five minutes!

11. Finally in London and we were faced with a difficult dilemna: where to eat when you have a list as long as your arm and only potentially a handful of meals? First stop was the Ottolenghi in Islington as Jenn had never been. We had a selection of their amazing salads and mains and then shared The Cake i.e. the Apple Cake with Maple Icing which I have made lots of times from their cookbook because it is that good.

12. Even though it wasn’t on our list, the perfect weather drew us to have brunch at Granger & Co. – Bill Granger’s first restaurant/café in London on Westbourne Grove. It was perfect for a summery lunch. I had an unusual and refreshing Mint and Rosehip Punch and their infamous Corn Fritters with Roast Tomato, Spinach and Bacon and Jenn’s Crisp Salmon Salad with Coconut and Caramel Dressing was delicious.

With dinner and cocktails at Wahaca and a stroll plus brunch around Maltby Street market on Sunday morning our foodie adventure was finally over. Jenn flew back to America on Sunday leaving me to contemplate what to do next…

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Ballymaloe Week 11 Highlights

Lobster killer...!

1. Ottolenghi makes the biggest meringues in London, and on Monday Darina whipped up some of their Pistachio and Rosewater Meringues (using the Italian meringue method i.e. a hot sugar syrup poured onto the egg whites whilst whipping), which produced these beautiful monsters. She also made some summery salads like Feta, Watermelon and Mint Salad & Pan-grilled Lamb, Zucchini and Broad Bean Salad.

2. On Tuesday morning, I made one large and two mini Almond Tarts with Strawberries. Based on a recipe from The River Café, it involves grating the chilled (very) short-crust pastry into a tart tin instead of rolling, a method invented by the pastry-scared Ruth and Rose (owners of said café). It took a while but produced meltingly good pastry and, with a frangipane filling made with freshly peeled almonds (a long process but worth it) and a topping of sweetened strawberries this tart was definitely my favourite of the dozens we made.

3. That morning I also practiced some White Yeast bread in preparation for the dreaded exams next week. We will be allocated either a white plait, individual rolls or focaccia…

4. That afternoon Rachel’s demonstration included three incredibly technical and rich cakes: Almond & Hazelnut Praline Cake (her wedding cake!...which she made herself the day before!), French Chocolate Cake and Chocolate & Raspberry Mousse Cake. This involved her juggling three sponges, ten layers, at least five icings and fillings along with praline and chocolate caraque – vaguely confusing but impressive!

5. On Wednesday we were very lucky to have Shermin Mustafa, a past student and teacher, come in to teach us sushi and some Turkish dishes. I was fascinated watching her make the sushi (rice) which was simple but involved precise timing and fanning (yes) to cool down the sushi as quickly as possible. She proceeded to assemble maki, Californian rolls, Temaki (hand-rolled), Oshi (pressed) and scattered sushi along with some delicious Turkish Lamajun: very thin flat-breads topped with minced lamb and herbs and cooked at a high temperature. 

6. Tomato Soup is usually so boring and seems to be the go-to soup at every café in the British Isles so, come Thursday morning I was not thrilled to be making it. But the Ballymaloe Tomato & Mint soup that I produced was, to quote Rory, ‘a revelation’. The secret I believe is to add in some white sauce, which sounds horrid but makes it very creamy and defiantly out-Heinzed Heinz.

7. That afternoon’s demo we were all shown how to kill and cook lobster. Look at them all lined up poor things – one tried to run away several times but of course, ended up either buttered or in a divine cream sauce inside a vol-au-vent! Rory also cooked some very sweet Scottish Scallops (i.e. the best I’d ever tasted) with Beurre Blanc sauce.

8. So Friday morning we got stuck into cooking and getting the meat out of bags full of lobsters. I was down to cook the incredibly rich Lobster with Fresh Cream and Herbs which, of course, I ate for lunch and then for supper with pasta.

9. That afternoon Darina cooked up some Mexican Ceviche, Pork en Croute with a delicious Duxelle Stuffing and some Chocolate Cases filled with Chocolate Mousse.

10. On Saturday some students had organised a ‘Long Table Dinner’ which involved every cottage providing a cocktail, starter/canapé and either main or desserts. Of course, when you ask around 38 cookery students (from around fifteen countries) to cook something they will actually cook everything and I have never seen or eaten so much amazing food. Tim Allen, on hearing our plan, kindly gave us carte blanche of the cookery school so the Pink Cottage moved out of our pint-sized kitchen and got down to producing a factory-sized amount of sushi and meringues (epic effort from Jenn and Chrisiana), Sangria (Dani) a huge trifle with fruit from the garden (me) and a Hungarian about-a-thousand-layered chocolate cake (Ali).

11. The evening itself was fab. After every canapé ever made was consumed (including devils on horseback of course) and speeches plus photo bombing accomplished we filled our plates from a table in The Barn laden with anything from Paella to Beef Wellington and then filled out plates again with pudding.

12. Our last Sunday at the school was filled with revision for the 6 hours of written exams coming to us on Friday. Covering everything from food hygiene and HACCP (that’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, don’t you know?!) to seasonality, sauces and fish/meat/herb recognition and recipes - we had a lot to cover...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Coming to you later than usual: Ballymaloe Week 10 Highlights!

1. On Monday lots of the students were cooking up racks of lamb so my cooking included a simple side of grilled aubergine topped with various yummy toppings like homemade tomato fondue, pesto and some of Toby Simmonds delicious buffalo mozzarella. Along with making a custard for stage one of a crème brûlée, I also made a little starter of Moules Provençale which is simply cooked mussels topped with a punchy garlic and parsley butter crust and grilled until crispy.

2. That afternoon at demo Darina recreated the infamous Ballymaloe House Buffet held every Sunday supper at the hotel. This encompassed several roasted meats like glazed ham (which I cooked the next day) and Kassler (a cured pork) and a riot of salads and pickles like Oeufs Mimosa, Mushroom and Caramelised Onion Salad and Cucumber and Fennel Pickle. The piece-de-resistance was a beautiful flower filled ice-bowl which held their Praline Ice-cream.

3. In the Tuesday demo, Rory created these fantastic Chocolate Mousses in Chocolate cases with Chocolate Tuilles.

4. At 8am on Wednesday we had our wine exam: hardly a highlight BUT after answering 100 questions ranging from how it (along with champagne and sherry) is made, to where the different grapes are grown and what wine they produce, never again will I point vaguely to a wine at the cheapest end of the menu (which may cause problems with my bank balance, but hey, I now know that the more you pay for a wine, the better value you are getting!).

5. Another semi-highlight was that we had to submit our menu for our practical exam in the final week. With constraints like time (three hours for three courses plus a bread to be drawn the day before), seasonal produce and balancing flavours/colours/and tastes, I found this gave me slight brain-freeze. However, using my summer birthday lunch as the theme I came up with a ‘Mediterranean Feast’:

Panzanella (a Tuscan Sourbread and Tomato Salad)
Pollo al Mattone with Green Beans, Roasted Onions, Sage, Parsley & Garlic Oil and Potato Crisps
Ricotta & Lemon Cake, Italian Fruit Salad, Cream & Spun Sugar

Only after submitting this did I realize it is actually all Italian – you’d never guess what my favourite food was…!

6. That afternoon, weak with tiredness from revision and menu fatigue, we were given a further head spin by the incredibly energetic and inspiring, Arun Kapil of Green Saffron. After quitting a glamorous job in London, he did the course in 2004, stayed in Ireland and began importing totally authentic Indian spices via his cousin in India and selling them, along with various curries and an award-winning Christmas pudding at local markets. Due to this success or more likely, Kapil’s sheer contagious enthusiasm and entrepreneurship, the company has grown hugely and his spices are favoured by numerous top chefs like Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal, are stocked in many specialist food shops and soon will be stocked in major supermarkets like Waitrose.

7. As if we weren’t wine-d out enough, that evening a few of us got glammed-up (the sun was shining at last!) to go to a wine event at Ballmaloe House with Jean Trimbach of Trimbach Wines, Alsace and local food producers followed by a ‘Texan BBQ’ as it was the 4th July. Between Jean’s charismatic discussions we tried various Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Chenin Blanc white wines.

8. Back to cooking on Thursday and I got to prep a squid which I made into this light and refreshing Thai Squid Salad.

9. ‘Tuna: Don’t buy it’ – Rory. Perhaps I’m lucky to be allergic to this endangered fish, as it makes it a little easier to resist considering Rory cooked some delicious-looking seared Tuna on Thursday (for educational purposes of course!). The Tuna Tartare looked especially pretty.

10. On Friday, Rachel cooked up a colourful Indian feast. A refreshing Melon Sorbet to start, Mild Madras Curry with various toppings like Tamarind Chutney with Bananas (served in tasteless bowls – the more garish and gimmicky the better!), Indian Breads and some golden Pears poached in Saffron Syrup and Agen-stuffed Prunes with Rosewater Cream for pudding.

11. That evening, I was surprised (or perhaps not considering her hoarder tendencies!) to find Daniella had brought back five cooked crabs to our cottage which the teachers had been giving away. We got out our knives and proceeded to bash, skewer and pick the crabs (yes, this is our idea of Friday night entertainment!). The next day, Jenn and I made some delicious Thai Crab cakes with the meat, before going to the pub. 

Visiting Lismore Castle on Saturday!
12. Which leads me on to the fantastic Charity Wok Up that some saintly students held at the Blackbird pub on Saturday in aid of the Cork Penny Dinners. After some of their amazingly good Summer Rolls, Pork Buns and Chicken Ramen out on the sunny terrace we had a lovely evening dancing and drinking and they raised 1000euro! 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Ballymaloe Week Nine Highlights

Beautiful sugarcraft at Ballymaloe House

1. We started off the week with a fantastic pasta demonstration with Rory and Gillian Hegarty, a past teacher who also worked for several years at The River Café. Of course, Gillian made kneading the dough look effortless, but on Tuesday morning every student was cursing the rubber-like dough as we kneaded it in the sticky heat of the kitchens! At demo she cooked up everything from Pappardelle with Chicken Liver Sauce (a recipe by the feted Marcella Hazan), to Ravioli with Sage Butter (which I cooked the next day) and Cappelletti with a delicious Tomato and Cream Sauce.

2. That same demo Rory made a gorgeous Zabaglione Ice-cream which was served with an Italian Fruit Salad. Of course, no Italian feast is complete without the dinner party stalwart, Tiramisu (no one can decide whether it originated from Venice or Rome) and, as it is my most favourite pudding I was interested to taste it but for some reason I just didn’t like it. For me, the grating of chocolate between each layer that they do here takes away from the bitter richness of the coffee that is so needed to cut through the rich egg and mascarpone. But then, Rory did warn that everyone’s idea of a good Tiramisu is different.

‘Whey can be a Revelation!’ – Rory

Lebanese Cucumber Soup and the Yoghurt Parfait
On Tuesday Rory demonstrated a rather unusual but deliciously light starter: Yoghurt Parfait with Mint Oil and Whey, Pea Shoots and Tendrills. As you can see, the presentation is incredibly delicate, with a myriad of micro-salad leaves arranged on the top.

4. Honestly, making a sourdough is like minding a baby, but on Tuesday evening, I finally managed to cook it. With my starter fully fed and the first big ‘feed’ done, I attempted to shape and cook my batch of loaves. The result was that it kind of looked like sourdough, and actually had that delicious beery sourness, but it was pretty much as thin as biscotti and almost as hard to cut! Apparently the first batch is always bad though, so I will try again next week.

Canapes for lunch!
5. On Wednesday morning we had a canapés demonstration which was great fun to watch as it was very presentation-heavy, with all sorts of fun and elegant ways to present finger food. One of my favourite ideas, was presenting cooked quails eggs in their (open) egg boxes with various toppings in which to dip. Also, Hermes boxes were filled with Anchovy and Sesame Seed Straws as an example of how to do branded events. As a rustic foil for all the formal bites like Smoked Salmon Spirals and Lamb on Rosemary Skewers, I liked their idea of Grilled Sourdough Bread with Rosemary and Garlic, which Darina served fresh from the bbq to guests as they arrived at their daughter’s wedding reception in the farm’s gardens. Guests could then help themselves to seasonal toppings like Crushed Broad Beans or Sautéed Chanterelle Mushrooms.
6. That afternoon we had a whirlwind talk about fur and feathered game from local gamekeeper Tom Duane and his gun-dog, Sammi. After taking us through the various game, their shooting seasons and how to pluck a bird, we got to see the incredibly obedient Sammi in action!

7. That evening, a few of us whizzed over to Ballymaloe House to catch a glimpse of the just finished decoration made by the pastry chef JR for a wedding cake. Perched cleanly on two white cakes, the ‘peonies’ were incredibly delicate and amazingly JR taught himself. All the sugarcraft took him and incredible 48hrs to make!

From this...
...to this

8. On Thursday I filleted a horrendously ugly and slimy monkfish for my Poached Monkfish with a Red Pepper Vinaigrette. As there are no pin bones, once the enormous head has been cut off (and cheeks cut out!) it is as easy as taking a chicken breast off the bone with the exception of the thick mucas-like slime with causes your fingers to slip and slide.

9. That same day we all made puff pastry which involves keeping everything stone cold as you are literally working with a whole pack of butter – no mean feat when the teachers later admitted they’d never had such a humid day. As I started with a fairly dry detempre (a flour and water dough which is used to encase the butter), my pastry was even harder to keep from cracking (which resulted in the butter coming out – not good!). But eventually, after giving it an additional fourth roll the next day, it looked somewhat ok. The task was to turn it into a Gateau Pithivier (or Gateau du Rois) which is filled with an almond paste and decorated in a very precise manner then glazed after cooking. As I have made a variation of this tart at home with shop bought puff it was amazing to see just how much higher homemade puff rises!

10. Dish of the Week: Bocca di Lupo’s Shaved Radish Salad. While I didn’t get to make this, I thought the combination of thinly sliced celeriac, radish and pecorino cheese dressed with truffle oil and sprinkled with pomegranates and parsley was delicious and may choose it for my starter for the final exam.

11. On Thursday we cooked more steak, this time with a traditional Red Wine Sauce and additional toppings of finely diced Tomato and Gherkin or Ballyhoura Oyster Mushrooms. The wine sauce took a long time to make as you first reduce half a bottle of wine, then the added grand marnier and port and finely almost 2 litres of beef stock. This results though in a very delicious, thick glaze to coat the steak in.

12. Our last demo of the week was with Rachel which was a nice change as she’s been away filming for most of the course. The focus was on how to cut and prepare a Rack of Lamb which was then cooked and served with various sauces, then a Crème Brulee with Poached Apricots and a Walnut Cake with American Frosting which she has made (herself!) in tiers for her wedding. She also made an old-school but comforting Fish Mousse with Shrimp Butter which has been on the House menu for 50 years (one family always request it on their return to stay) and must be made with incredibly fresh fish, eggs and cream.