Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Daylight and lessons learned

A quarter the way through the course. For me this week has really the been the turning point where I am starting to really realise my weaknesses rather than feeling confident 90% of the time. I need to learn to slow down and take stock. To actually go through everything twice before going ahead with recipes. It's been a hard one I can tell you but also enjoyable and rewarding to learn that I will never make these mistakes again!

But, on the other hand, it's been another great week. After it being my turn at cooking family dinner (chilli roasted veggies with bulgar wheat and quinoa tossed in parsley and golden oyster mushrooms), finally we are making our way into the kitchens with daylight! Daylight is such a beautiful thing at 8am after leaving demo the night before in the dark! I made my second sourdough and already it's a 100% better. Still got some way to go to perfection but it's a yummy mistake we are all happy to get wrong. We've had some extra hours wine tasting of Little Beauty Wine... happy days! I made Bean Can Bread, so great and easy and then just some great times in the kitchen.

The Pink Cottage also received a great treat in the post from Raw Nibbles, some Cacao butter. We plan on making chocolate and raw chocolate and I've been using this page as some inspiration…can't wait for those final ingredients to arrive and get making!

And one of the best pieces of news…one of the cows had her calf on Monday evening. Welcome baby Babette heifer to the family.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Tips of the Week

Oh happy weekend. How glad am I that it is only Saturday. After a short visit to the Black Bird Pub in Ballycotten last night to mingle with the locals, the alarm clock came as quite a shock! Off to do our kneading of our Sourdough Sponge with Tim and then a quick, and yummy visit to Middleton Farmers Market.

Quite ashamed that I'm almost in week 4 of the course at Ballymaloe and still haven't managed to visit Middleton Market, we toddled off down the country lanes ready to see all the great vendors. 

There was the mushroom lady of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushroom selling shitake, several oyster species and nameko all grown in sawdust and chemick free. These were amazing and I opted for the Golden Oysters for my turn at cooking 'family supper' tomorrow night.

There was the Ahern family there selling their chickens, the Hederman family selling their amazing hot and cold smoked mackerel, salmon and mussels. Several local farmers selling veggies and fruit, the pate guy who's pate is amazing by the way! I was so blown away by the caramelised onion pate in my mouth and excited by the pate package in my hand I utterly forgot to ask his name…next week.

Of course Ballymaloe was there with it's stall and several of our classmates helping to sell, there was the sausage lady who we purchased several rustic hotdogs from and last but not least there was the best hot chocolate seller ever. And as a person who never drinks coffee and always hot chocolate, I should know! The name is O'Connail and they are really known for roasting and grinding their own coffee. But these guys also make their own chocolate for their hot chocolate. Oh boy. Go. Go now!

And so after a busy jam packed week. Here are 'my' tips of the week…

1. When boiling/blanching greens, never put the lid back on the pan once the veg is in the water. The evaporation that hits the lid will drop back into the mix actually discolour your veg.

2.  Soups that have potato/flour in are harder to reheat.

3. The yellower the fat on a piece of meat, the more grass fed it has been.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Is it me, or are we moving at warp speed?

This week has been so jam packed full of goodness. I had my meeting with Darina, it was insightful and great to speak to someone who knows so many people within the food industry, whether it's producers, restauranteurs, entrepreneurs or stylists . Literally she must know at least 100 people in each country in the world. Lots of great ideas and challenges came out of my meeting, as well as her loving my biscuits, asking if she could have the rest to take home plus lots more. Lots lots more of great little secrets and future things in the pipeline that I hope you come back and read all about!

We've learnt to make a new type of bread, brown yeast bread which is, by far the best so far. Tim Allen has been patiently walking or kneading us through sourdough starters and sponges. We are still waiting to actually get it proved but it's all exciting. I've named mine Bernie. He's lovely!

We've had Rachel Allen and Rory O'Connell for most of demos this week which we are all loving. And I mean loving. Rory brings a huge recipe encyclopaedic knowledge of exciting techniques and ideas for ingredients with a far more professional approach. Rachel is fun and vibrant and just makes three hours very fun, full of giggles and great tips. Today we learnt all about shrimps, prawns, crayfish all from 10minutes down the road.

We've had wine tasting with Maurice O'mahony from Wine Alliance and had a fun hour of swirling, sniffing and spitting. Ok, who am I kidding, we all drank our tasters!

Spring has started, buds are on the trees and as we learn more and more, the talk of what our future holds is boiling over and it seems quite symbolic coinciding with this time of the year. 

I cannot believe next week is week 4. Week 4! That means we only have 8 weeks left of the course and 2 weeks till our fist set of exams! Wow. I've left the 'oh my god I'm so excited to be here' stage and I've moved to the stage of loving it and soaking everything this place has to offer but thinking to the future and what that holds.

Knives at the ready!

Monday, 21 January 2013

A view of the veggies

I cooked Mexican today, for those that know me you are probably laughing. For those that don't, I have  been living there for the last 5 years. Go figure

My meeting didn't happen. I'm bummed but, on the plus side now the house has all the cookies it could possibly want. Try them, they are amazing. Darina would have been proud if she had tasted them tonight. Who knows what I'll make next week.

Here's a few photos of some of the veggies they grow here. Yum!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The taster day

It's a go in our Pink Cottage kitchen today. Tomorrow is my talk with Darina to see where I want my future to go. The word talk seems so small and almost insignificant but this has been on my mind for the better part of the week.

Darina suggests we make her a pot of tea and some biscuits so the pressure is on. Of course you want your biscuits to impress and amaze her with your hidden talent. This is a big moment, I feel.

I've ummed and ahhhed since the beginning of the course, I knew I wanted to speak to her sooner rather than later and have had a few biscuit ideas going through my mind so today, was D day.
I started off the morning making a simple Thyme biscuit. No pictures as they ended up in the hen bin. I had an inkling they wouldn't work as wonderfully as lavender biscuits but you have to try.

Second recipe that has been on my mind was the mix of lemon and cumin. My folks, especially my Indian Father uses cumin like nobodies business. Lemon is such a great flavour and our first week Darina gave us a Lemon fork biscuit recipe. So, what better way to use her recipe but adapt it to my style…I'm hoping (everything crossed that this will work for her as much as it's worked for my housemates).

It's a super simple recipe, cut down to make roughly 20 biscuits, less if you make them bigger obviously.

4oz soft butter
2oz castor sugar
5oz flour
the juice of one lemon and the rind of the same lemon
about 1 teaspoon of whole roasted cumin.

Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the other ingredients and hey presto. Take a teaspoon of dough in wet hands (will stop dough from sticking to your hands), put on baking paper and press with a fork. Pop in the oven at about 110 and check after 10minutes. They want to be golden around the edges.

The flavour that comes from these biscuits is such a far away land combination. A smash of toasted cumin followed by a citrus burst on your tongue. It's magical. A hit in the Pink Cottage. Let's hope Darina thinks so.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Week 2

It has been one of those crazy long weeks. You feel ill, then you're better, then you're ill again, tensions rise and pans boil over. Yep, it's been one of those….good but long.

Whilst everyone is snow fighting in Blightey, we have had a pretty mild week here in Cork. Rain a couple of the evenings yet today, bright blue skies. Almost warm (she says wearing 2 thermals).

Cooking wise, it was great! High scores all week, great compliments and some great feedback from teachers. I'm trying to build more and more things into my routine each morning to get myself super duper practised with organisation and so far so good. Yesterday I made 7 things in 3 hours, today slightly less but you win some, you lose some.
We had some great lectures from Artisan Food Specialist Eddie Oneil, who makes and tests cheeses around the world. He was a wealth of knowledge and it was great trying some of the stuff we made with milk in the space of 3 hours.

As a lot of you know there has been huge talks this week about the quality of our meat control (google Tescoe Horse Burger) and food waste (ITV's programe What a waste). It's something we are all guilty of, food wasting that is. It's really lovely to live in a place that uses up every bit of scrap food. If it doesn't go for the hens or the compost it goes into the stock pot.

Even better, is that we are taught five different things to do with one veg/piece of meat etc. For example take a piece of lamb. First day roast it, the juices we use for stock, the fat we skim off the stock we use to seal pate in its jar. Or let's say a lemon that you have squeezed to make lemonade. If you have roughly 10 whole lemon skins make candied peel with them and with the sugar syrup you cook them in make lemonade. The lemon skin then can either be used for jam or for chocolate dipped candied peel presents. Maybe you'd prefer to add them to a cake. If you don't have 10 at one time, pop them in the freezer till you do and then do it.

We are constantly made to reassess how and what we use every item we cook with. The possibilities are endless, so if you just think about one thing this week, please think about this. You'll save money and the rubbish!

Tips from Ballymaloe at the end of week 2:

1. After scoring soda bread, always prick each piece. Let's those pesky fairies out.

2. If you've forgotten to get your butter out for a recipe and it's toooo cold, grate it in!

3. Scones are the new bad boys of the cake world…believe me!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A new week

A new week needs a great start, don't you think? My great start was 5 cows, mud, myself and a sunrise. I didn't think I'd get quite so muddy (stop laughing) or enjoy it quite so much as it was -3 when I walked down to the milking shed. But there you go, learn something new. I have discovered I like the cold. Yes, really, but only when I go to milk the cows….hmmmm.

Its a really lovely, quite idyllic thing, walking the cows to the milking parlour. Gently cooing them on, trying to avoid what looks like a massive mud hole. The milk comes out pure and clean, into the separating thingy (technical term you know!) to separate the cream from the milk. Genius and exciting and so easy! I want a moo cow. Literally, I want a moo cow now.

Another great day of scoring for me today, 10 out 10 for my Gubeen bacon with poached egg salad. I am a very happy girl. Yesterday I received another 9…I want all 10s. All the time…

Tomorrow is lectures. Cheese lectures…yum.

Knives at the ready!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Lazy day

It's a lazy day. A day to meander and wander, to explore the ever green hills and ivy-supporting trees on the country lanes. Plus, the sun is shinning. They said snow but really, what does the met office know?

We left early and made our way to Ballymaloe House, the place it all started as far as Ballymaloe and the empire it has become is concerned. Where Myrtle Allan chose local ingredients to go on her menus and as some people say is really the founder of the whole Ballymaloe organic/local producer love.

It's as picturesque as you can imagine. A long drive way winding up to the big house. Deep, dark, brown earth tilled, splitting and ready for seed to be sown on each side. The sun shinning and making icicles out of cobwebs.

A walk on the beach follows with an icy salt tang in the air. All that is needed now is food, which is where the English Market comes back into play. The 15 or so cheeses we tried yesterday and whittled down to 3 are now part of mezzo starter plate. Hot smoked chilli salmon from Frank Hedermen, a traditional irish fish smoker, is on the plate too. Oh and those locally marinated greek olives could be thrown in the mix too (if we don't eat them first)

Sounds like a good preparation to me for tomorrow, no?

Knives at the ready!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Corks' English Market

Our first day off, yes. Really. I can't quite believe it and seeing as most people went to the pub (returning at 4am) I think they are quite happy! A friend and I set off relatively early with the sun behind us, trying to push through the greying clouds, the emerald grass sparkling from the midnight rain that I missed having fallen asleep early to get over the lurgy that has managed to wangle its way into my busy schedule.

It was so wonderful to be off for the day. No wait, thats wrong. I don't want a day off cooking. It's nice to see the daylight. Yes, that's what it is. The daylight. Nice to feel the fresh air in the middle of the day. Nice but I'm glad I only have two days of it a week.

The English Market is a wonderful food medley. I'm proud to say that I only tried Irish cheeses. I say 'only' very lightly as there were about 15 so it was a pretty good tasting session!
Looking forward to next weekend and what else is to come.

Knives at the ready!

Friday, 11 January 2013

End of week 1

It has been an oh so long week. So long in fact, that I'm sure that more than a week has passed and everybody around me is just pretending that it is the same week.

I haven't slept enough, partly due to nerves. Partly due to excitement…you can't win can you?! And then when I have nodded off in to the world of supposed slumber, I have been tormented by dreams of bread too soggy, cutting my fingers off, lobsters chasing me. Need I continue or do you get the picture?

I find myself ill and glad it's the weekend so I can recuperate and gather strength for the next week. If we found this week intense it will only get worse as recipes get more intricate, our palettes become more snobby and we generally want to push ourselves to do more in less time.

I won't share recipes with you. Ok, go on then, I will when I'm cooking them! And maybe in the coming weeks I will write less and less, probably about 2 or 3 times a week but, what I will share with you is some handy little wonderful tips…just to keep you on your toes. So please, tell me if they help or if there are any other things you'd like tips from and I'll see what I can do!

1) Always buy seasonal produce. And to help with this lack of produce over the unavailable months, freeze as much as you can.

2. Freeze tomatoes whole (stalks and everything). To use, simply place in cold water for a couple of minutes and the skin comes right off. I saw this with my very own eyes and gasped in awe! Chop and use immediately to make sauce…No sandwiches though!

3. Cook jam for as little as possible. 5-10mins should do it. This holds the flavour and will make it more intense in every which way…Cook the sugar in the over whilst fruit is going a little liquidy and coming to the boil (5-10mins if frozen, less if not) then add. This will make it come to the boil quicker therefore doing the above!

I'm sure there a lots more little tips and tricks that I haven learnt over the last week, the truth is they are all in my notebook which lies about 5 long metres away. Did I mention I'm so tired??? And of course being so tired I forgot to mention I received two, TWO 9's for my cooking today. Chuffed and tired…winning combination.

Knives at the ready!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Health and Safety fun

Now this would be an awfully ( and I mean awfully) boring post if I was to explain what we were up to! Four words for you. Health and safety lecture.

That is it in a nutshell. No cooking at all, can you feel my sadness? Oh and I'm ill. Boo hoo. Hopefully tomorrow I will be all good as I have a big cooking plan to get through!

Here are some photos to keep you amused instead of my scribbles.

Knives at the ready!