Jen's Kitchen offers a fresh approach to home cooking with exciting recipes and blog posts that emphasise hands-on cookery using local and organic produce.

Home. The place to practice.

I went home last weekend and was delighted to see everyone, and all the animals. My oldest cat, Percy, ignored me.  Punishment I’d say.

Nicki & Percy

Nicki & Percy

Eile, the collie was delighted to see me, but there again is delighted to see anyone, a true guard dog.

Eile watching it all from her bench

Eile watching it all from her bench

Eddie the donkey was happy to get a visit too, although my beautiful mare was more interested in Nigel’s apples.

Eddie and the stag

Eddie and the stag

Missy in the field

Missy in the field

I am truly lucky to have a wonderful kitchen that we can all be in together, either cooking or just chatting.  But it was a hive of activity as I practised ( and showed off just a little!), my new recipes and skills.

Celeriac soup with Chorizo crumb, served with the Ballymaloe Brown bread

Celeriac soup with Chorizo crumb, served with the Ballymaloe Brown bread

I STILL haven’t got the bread just right, but it’s improving.  Some things we saw in demo, we didn’t get a chance to make during the week, Limoncello – so of course I had to start that process

The start of the limoncello

The start of the limoncello

The chocolate fudge pudding went down a complete treat, but there simply wasn’t enough time to photograph it as it was simply inhaled!

Ballymaloe Cookery Schools Demo photo

Ballymaloe Cookery Schools Demo photo

 

Scones and bread, staples of any good weekend

Scones and bread, staples of any good weekend

I look forward to more practice this weekend.

Herbie- we’re going bananas about beans

Beans of every shape sort and colour were introduced to us last week.  From re-fried beans to bean stew.  During the demonstration we learnt about a herb I had not come across before- epazote.

Epazote

Epazote

I was fascinated about this new herb and as usual intent on finding out about it’s back ground and uses. Originally used by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes  (the Aztec translation of “Epazote” is Skunk Sweat- VERY appetizing!), Epazote is common in both Caribbean and Mexican cooking.  Tasting a little like tarragon, some say it smells to them like creosote.  So between the skunk breath wording, and smelling like creosote, it’s a bit off putting.  But there is a good reason it’s so often in Mexican cooking, especially with beans… it contains the essential oil – Carminative, which reduces gasiness, and makes beans digestion easier.

Re Fried Bean dishes- Chicken Tostadas

Re Fried Bean dishes- Chicken Tostadas

The other herb we talked about is Coriander.  Both Rachel and Darina have spoken about how there is a divided in regard to a) the marmite effect of it, and b) that it is a very different tasting herb to different people.  As it happens, the taste of coriander as soap is genetic.  A little like rolling your tongue.  Some taste lime like flavours, others soap.  Two very different tastes, you’ll agree. With approx. 11% of the population having variations of this gene, OR6A2 (Mauer, L. K. Genetic Determinants of Cilantro Preference), there are just going to be some of us who don’t like it!  Interestingly those who do “taste soap” may also be allergic to latex!

Even the great Julia Child disliked coriander: in 2002, she told the interviewer Larry King that she never ordered dishes with coriander: “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”  Well Julia, I wouldn’t throw it out- quite the opposite, I do like it, but I respect your honesty.

The Cure on a Monday …

I know I could never be a vegetarian for one simple reason.  I love a bacon sarnie FAR too much.  The smell of bacon cooking completely distracts me from all else, and is guaranteed to have me drooling.  So when this afternoons demonstration included learning how to cure our own pork to make bacon I was very excited.

Demonstration of curing

Demonstration of curing

There is a  history of eating pig in Ireland going back to c. 2000 BC, porcine bones were found in the “waste burial” in Newgrange.  Throughout history pigmeat has been prominent in the Irish diet.   In Waterford in 1382, it was agreed that any pig found “wandering” could be slaughtered by the designated “pig Warden”.  From the 18th Century pork and bacon became important exports.  With the principle routes of exports being Limerick, Waterford and Cork.  Waterford, in 1860, produced nearly two thirds the amount of Irish Bacon imported into  London.  Munster was such a stronghold for pig rearing, as they were fed the buttermilk left over from the dairy production in the region.  And in 1820 Henry Denny began his business in Waterford.

On a family basis , the pigs were slaughtered traditionally twice a year, April and October.  It was a big undertaking, with all of the pig being used for various dishes, even the blood which was collected to make blood pudding.  The salting and brining of the meat took days, and was a continuous job. Approximately 4lbs of salt was rubbed into each flank.

We looked at both a dry- cure and a wet cure today, and I look forward to trying both.  Mind you, I’ve a serious yearning for a sandwich right  now, so the curing might have to wait….

 

 

 

 

 

Say Cheeseeeeeeee….

Today, being theory day, was focusing on cheese and yoghurt production. I am a massive fan of cheese, and it was great to see that so much could be made on a domestic level.  We had Eddie O’Neill, from Teagasc, to instruct us in best practice when producing milk, cheese and yoghurt on both a domestic and commercial scale.  The highlight for me was Eddie’s cool tie!

Dairy Tie

Dairy Tie

When I studied food micro with Dr Upton in UCD all those years ago, I never thought, 20 years later I would be remembering the spelling of Lactobacillus thermophilus!  We spoke about lots of cheeses, and it particular Darina mentioned the “brown” cheese much eaten in Scandinavia- Brunost.  This cheese is made from caramelising the whey, and has a very specific taste. I read up on it tonight and came across an interesting story about it;

In January 2013, the Bratli Tunnel at  Tysfjord, Norway, was damaged when a lorry load of caramelised brunost caught fire. The high concentration of fat and sugar in the cheese caused it to burn fiercely at sufficiently high temperatures that the fire was still burning five days later!

Darina Allen and Eddie O'Neill

Darina Allen and Eddie O’Neill

I am not sure about making  cheese- it really involves an enormous amount of work- hats off to the artisan producers- but yoghurt, definitely, and maybe I’ll try my hand at butter.  As an aside if you are visiting the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore at any stage (HIGHLY recommended), the smoked butter is to DIE for.

Some cottage cheese and herbs made this morning by Darina

Some cottage cheese and herbs made this morning by Darina (NB it had been attacked by students

The morning flew, and we were all glad to partake in the obligatory tasting of the tray bakes.  My personal favourite was the raspberry and coconut one.

Beautiful traybakes prepared by the talented Tracey

Beautiful traybakes prepared by the talented Tracey

After lunch we were onto wine lecture 2.  Everyone was really looking forward to it, as Peter and Colm make it sound fun, while imparting an enormous amount of knowledge at the same time.  We covered a lot of material, and had 5 tastings.  For me, the surprise of the afternoon was how much I enjoyed the New Zealand Riesling. A sweet wine, Seifried Nelson “Sweet Agnes” Riesling, has transformed my jaundiced view of sweet wine (too much pouring of muscat de beaume de venise while waitressing in Truffles all those many years ago).  This wine bears no resemblance to the sickly sweetness, and syrupy mouthfeel often associated with sweet wines.  I will definitely be looking for a bottle (all donations gratefully accepted”)

 

Peace .. and miles to go before I sleep

What I always like about a falling of snow, is the peacefulness of it.

Snow in the fruit garden

Snow in the fruit garden

And although I have no picture, so as not to look like a complete weirdo, as I relaxed in the outdoor jacuzzi at the Garryvoe Leisure centre this evening, with the snow falling softly on my face, I had a kind of peace.  If only for a few minutes.  And as I sat trying to restore movement to muscles I didn’t know even existed (me joining the gym is a WHOLE other days conversation), I tried to remember one of my favourite poems.  And am thankful for the miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

BY Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

It’s all about the… cardamon and the kale and the artichoke..

Back in the kitchen with a bang this morning, and as I walked into cookery school I remembered how awfully nervous I was this time last week, and how wonderfully at home I feel this week.  The cooking went well, I did not seem to have an extensive list of dishes, but jointing the chicken and segmenting the grapefruit tutorials took time.  The Arjard salad I made took me out of my comfort zone in both taste and methodology.  But the resulting dish was pleasant and fitting with the other courses.

Arjard Salad

The Arjard Salad

The Grapefruit Starter was time consuming to prepare but the resulting taste was wonderfully fresh, and well worth the effort of grape peeling.

Grapefruit Starter

Grapefruit Starter

We started the demo after lunch, as per usual, and settled in to watch Rachel ( and Pat) run through a miriad of dishes and techniques.  Some of my favourite foods were included; Green Cardamon, Jerusalem Artichoke, Chocolate and Kale.

Kale is the epitome of the healthy winter vegetable, and my grandmother often put it in mashed potato for dinner, I presume to try to get greens into my sister, as opposed to some haute cuisine.  We only ever had the curly variety, and I’m not sure, even now, I’ve ever tasted the other two in the below picture.

Different types of Kale

Different types of Kale

My Finnish Sister in law use to keep me in stock of cardamon prior to its availability in this part of the world.  We were introduced to the Black or Brown variety today, of which I had never seen or heard.  Although not strictly related, they both belong to the ginger family. I just love the fragrance of the green cardamon, and am particularly fond of the Finnish Sweet Bread, pulla. Worth noting that cardamon is the third most expensive spice in the world…. just aswell I use it sparingly.

Cardamon

Cardamon

The poor Jerusalem artichoke is a much maligned vegetable.  I personally love it. I love it’s knarls and imperfections.  Here’s a poem I wrote about it while studying Food Writing in UCC. Worth noting, it is not strictly an artichoke, but is, like a true artichoke, also a member of the daisy family.

“Ode to Pimmy”

Although knarled and twisted like the old gardeners hands that tend your roots

You sit patiently in the sodden ground

Not wishing to shine in the sun like your cousins

Content to rest, the earthbound apple.

AND it’s a true super food.  10% protein, very little starch, and no oil.  What is does contain, especially in the colder countries it is cultivated in, is the carbohydrate inulin.  This gives this particular vegetable it’s sweet taste, as inulin is a polymer of fructose.  But take care, inulin cannot be broken down by the human digestive system, only by bacteria found in our gut, so sometimes this particularly plain looking vegetable, can, when eaten, cause a little bit of an upset!

John Goodyer’s entry for Jerusalem artichoke in the 1633 edition of Gerard’s Herballconcluded: In my judgement, which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir up and cause a filthie loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be much pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than man; yet some say they have usually eaten them, and have found no such windy quality in them”.

And the Chocolate? That’s tomorrows story..

Liquid Gold, comes in many forms

Today was theory day in the Cookery School.  I was already having withdrawal symptoms from the kitchen.  (and my candied peel was DYING to see me!). The afternoons lecture on HACCP and food safety, as it is my original training, was going to be interesting from a chef’s point of view.  But I had no idea on what to expect from the wine lecture.

Firstly Darina instructed us on how to make a good cup of tea.  MY liquid gold, I was absolutely *Gasping* for one by the time she had finished explaining it.  We also heard about herb teas, and discussed the merits of various herbs in teas.

Some herbs used in herbal teas

Some herbs used in herbal teas

We then moved swiftly onto another of my “gold” favourites, cheese.  Vacherin Mon D’Or is a cheese produced with such a high regard for tradition, that is it often only produced from September to May, it is another liquid heaven…

I have a passion for food history, and pricked up my ears when Darina spoke of the Butter Market in Cork, (1722 – 1935).  I had to know more, as butter is yet another of my favourite liquid golds.  Apparently the butter was so highly thought of as it had to get strictly tested, and was then graded.

It was categorised into 5 types, “first” being the best, “Bishop” being the worst.  The Cork Butter Market was the largest in the World in 1835.  The Butter roads were vital to the market, and during the 1820′s the government financed various schemes  to make the network of existing roads connecting other counties with Cork, more direct.  For example, the new road from Listowel to Cork, completed in 1829, reduced the road distance from 164km to 106 kms.

The butter market was open at times 24 hours, meaning it was accessible to those in remote areas.  The inspectors would draw lots on which section they would inspect to make it fair and equitable.

Possibly the first creamery in Ireland (with separators) to serve a number of farmers was the Midleton Dairy Company, Co. Cork, promoted and planned by Penrose Fitzgerald, which started operations 1882, this was the beginning of the end for the Butter Market.  As an aside, Penrose Fitzgerald, was from an eminent Quaker family, although I cannot trace the ancestry.

Enough about butter, mind you some might say there is NEVER enough said about butter… and onto the last liquid gold of the day

A little wine tasting

A little wine tasting

Chardonnay.  Yes, wine tasting on a Thursday morning is something I could get use to.   But I actually, and surprisingly got more from Peter Corr, and Colm McCan talking about, and relating stories of Chardonnay, then quite possibly from the tasting itself. We watched a really good piece by Jancis Robinson on Chardonnay produced in Adelaide, Australia, and Burgundy France. Both producers featured were hugely passionate, and both not quite so complementary about the others products.  It must be said, however, that the Australian gentleman was much more polite about his counterparts efforts.

The Frenchman, for me, described his wine perfectly, trying to contain the spirit of the soil, the peace, the environment, the history all in a glass.  It’s a little like what Ballymaloe are trying to “bottle” in us, the essence of holistic food production and sourcing, the combination of history, skills, environment and good soil.

Taking stock- or rather making it

Each student has various additional tasks over the week, and we are starting to realise that there are lists upon lists upon lists to be checked every day.  My task today, Wednesday was to assist with the stock making.  This task starts at 8 o’clock in the morning. I duely arrived up through the stormy weather and was delighted that our teacher was going to be assisting me.  I arrived a little early and didn’t waste any valuable learning time by studying more salad types in a picture handily available.

Different salad types

Different salad types

I set to work chopping/ flattening chicken carcasses, and my partner chopped carrots and onions.  This did not take long, but the cleaning of the meat chopping area did.  I was delighted to have watched Chef Sean Dempsey doing it for all those years.  Lots of salt and plenty of elbow grease. Soon we were released to our kitchens and I set about collecting my ingredients.  To be honest the morning passed in a complete blur of stirring, cleaning, sharpening and tasting- not grazing- as Rory O’Connell put so elegantly.  Each dish is scored, and techniques are improved upon each day.  I was very glad to sit down at lunch, although I did manage a sneaky coffee while cooking today.

Dessert of Autumn Fruit Salad, in a Sweet Geranium Syruo, served with lightly whipped cream

Dessert of Autumn Fruit Salad, in a Sweet Geranium Syrup, served with lightly whipped cream

Always a fan of mushrooms, I was very pleased with my mushroom and thyme tart, and will definitely be putting it on the favourite list.

Mushroom and Thyme Tart, picture c/o @Sweetgeranium

Mushroom and Thyme Tart, picture c/o @Sweetgeranium

So after another wonderful lunch, we settled into the afternoon’s demo with Rory O’Connell.  He works at a high pace, and without caffeine I cannot believe how I kept up.  He is a wonderful teacher, and is very willing to answer questions.  I especially enjoyed his flavour combination, and serving suggestions.  There were always reasons for his choices, carefully thought out and explained.

Ardsallagh Goas Cheese salad, with figs, rocket and pomegranate

Ardsallagh Goas Cheese salad, with figs, rocket and pomegranate. Pic courtesy of @BallymaloeCS

This was very definitely my favourite dish of the afternoon, and I’m disappointed not to be cooking it on Friday.  All the teachers are passionate, and almost evangelical about the suppliers, yesterday we tasted the Gubbeen Chorizo from  @gubbeen.  And today the Ardsallagh Goats Cheese from @Ardsallaghgoats, and also today, mid demo, we heard from a local honey producer, Michael Woulfe.  As my eldest child has been bee keeping on the farm for the last 3 years, taking over gradually from his Granddad, I fully appreciated what Darina said, that bee keeping is necessary,  now more than ever, to try to stabilise our collapsing eco system.  What Michael also  said, was the the local suppliers very much appreciated the support of Ballymaloe, and it was nice to hear both sides.

A Honeycomb

A Honeycomb

So often now there is conflict between producers and shops over margins and price, it was refreshing to here of the mutual relationship that Ballymaloe has with it’s suppliers.

Tomorrow is theory day, and on my favourite subject- food micro and HACCP!

Tuesday Already?

I can’t believe it’s Tuesday already. Monday just seemed to go so fast.  Before I knew what hit me I was sitting in the car dazed after information overload.

The entrance hall at the cookery school shop

The entrance hall at the cookery school shop

Today was the first day cooking in our designated kitchen, we had various talks from the teachers in relation to the different areas, cleaning up etc, etc.

What struck me most about the day, was the wonderful atmosphere. Everyone is so very helpful and willing to impart knowledge.  Lunch was almost an emotional affair as we had worked so hard as a team to produce what, even if I do say so myself, looked, and tasty great.

It was so good to hear comments from the other people at our tables, one of my fellow students professes to not liking mushrooms, yet, really enjoyed the mushroom pasta dish.  I only regret not being able to taste the cheese that was on, I completely forgot!

The salads served each day at the lunch are legendary, and when you see all the composite ingredients, it gives you an enormous respect for the people growing , or foraging for the ingredients. 2015-01-06 10.44.31

Now all I have to do is learn the names…..

 

 

 

The night before it all begins…

Tonight I left home and family, animals and my kitchen. It was very hard, and I cried until I got to Youghal, through two garda checkpoints (they looked very strangely at me, and to be fair asked me was I ok?).

I have enough “stuff” in the boot to last the full 12 weeks, even though I fully plan to be travelling home most weekends.

The weather was bad, the roads twisty, and outside Ladysbridge, and I took a wrong turn, ending up at Ballymaloe House, but at least I was on familiar territory, and headed towards Shanagarry.  As I was about to take the final turn a very appropriate song came on,  and I felt it was a definitely a sign for me.

New Beginnings, new challenges, new experiences.

Adrienne met me like a old friend at reception and I immediately relaxed. I got my stationery pack, my all important knives, and my cap and aprons. I headed down to the Garden cafe to meet the group that had been arriving all day. There was such a warm welcoming atmosphere, friendly chatter, in the uniquely decorated cafe room.

I sat at a table with students coming from as far away as New York ( also a coffee drinker- tick), Donegal, Monkstown in Cork, and the UK.  Soon the room was full and various delicious pizzas handed around.  It was a lovely way to get introduced to the obvious ethos of family, organic, well prepared food philosophy that runs throughout the school.

Tonight, along with this little blog, I plan to read all about tomorrows day, and maybe sneak a peek at Tuesday! But sleep, if it comes, is definitely on the agenda.