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.

School Tour- First in over 25 years!

School tour day dawned bright and very early, well earlier than most for me as I was on cow milking duty. Our first port of call was the Mahon Farmers Market where we all gave in our tickets to our chosen stall to have our “breakfast”.  Steak sandwich at 10 in the morning? Yes please!

Breakfast time

Breakfast time

Then back on the bus (I got a lift in a car which was great, and more comfortable!) down to Durrus.  I always forget how much I love West Cork, and seeing the first lambs in the field really brought a sense of Spring to the day.  Everyone was quite giddy at the day at itinerary ahead, and even the long journey didn’t dampen spirits.

As we were in the car, we got to Durrus ahead of the bus, and started up the hill to the cheese makers premises.  Narrow twisty lanes didn’t bode well for the 60 seater bus.

The view from the “factory” is incredible.

View from outside the dairy.

View from outside the dairy.

The awards on display outside, there are many more inside!

The Accolades for Durrus Cheese

The Accolades for Durrus Cheese

We got a private tour while waiting for those on the buses.  Eventually the little bus ran students up and down as the bigger bus stayed in Durrus.  It was great to see the bigger version of what we learnt with Clancy back in the dairy.

The ladies making Durrus Cheese

The ladies making Durrus Cheese

The smaller groups suited the visit in the end as we all got to see everything, and the day was so beautiful no-one minded waiting for the bus. We got to taste the produce too, always a plus!

Tasting Durrus Cheese

Tasting Durrus Cheese

Our next stop was back down the road to Durrus and the Good Things Cafe run by the eminently capable Carmel Somers.  Although shut at the moment (Durrus is incredibly seasonal), we moved the “picnic” from the bus into the cafe, and nibbled on our white radishes and pate while Carmel spoke about her journey to this point in time with her cafe, and previous experience.  It was a warts and all journey, and clearly her passion for flavour and excellence have been some of her drivers.

Very cool lights in the Feel Good Cafe

Very cool lights in the Good Things Cafe

John McKenna also dropped in.  I have met John a number of times in The Tannery, but spent quite some time with him while doing the Food Writing Module in UCC last year, and he is someone with whom you could talk all day about food trends and fads, and the disgraces of modern living.  It also helps that he loves one of my favourite restaurants Harry’s, Donal is a visionary that many could model themselves on, as he just knows exactly what he’s doing.  John spoke lovingly about the new Harry’s Shack, and made me want to jump straight in a car and drive to Port Stewart!

Carmel Somers in Good Things Cafe

Carmel Somers in Good Things Cafe

Reluctantly we got back on the bus and headed for Urru in Bandon.

Ruth Healy is a past student, and set up her modern day green grocer in Co Cork.  Ruth talks at a rate of knots about her passion, food.  Urru (Urban- Rural) was established by Ruth in 2003, and she has been an ambassador for producers ever since.  Making the decision early on, that as a sales person, she wanted to spend her time interacting with her clients, there is no kitchen as such in the shop.  The deli counter is spacious and inviting, as she explained herself she seeks out the best soup producers, bread producers while maintaining a coffee counter and the kitchen and book shop.  There were over 60 of us in the shop, but it did not seem too crowded and we all had a look round.

Anthony Creswell from Ummera Smokehouse  also called in to tell us about his produce while we were in Urru.  Not only do they smoke fish, but also chicken, duck and bacon.  He went through some of the challenges of having an artisan food business in Ireland.

With that we had to swap buses as those heading to the Riedel tasting that night in the Grainstore, Ballymaloe, went on the small bus to get back in time.  Already it had been a long day, but we were all still in good spirits.  Traffic was not too bad, and soon we were back in Shanagarry.

Glass Comparison Wine Tasting

Glass Comparison Wine Tasting

John Hinckley from Riedel Glass presented the glass comparison tasting evening, and I have to admit, I was very sceptical about whether I would truly be able to “taste” the difference.  But it was a real eye opener.  I won’t spoil it for anyone, as really this is an event that has to be experienced to be understood, and enjoyed.

What I will tell you is that White Burgundy is my new favourite type of wine.

 

 

 

 

 

A little of this, a little of that

We’ve cooked some delicious food over the last few days.  From pasta, to honeycomb, from egg mayonnaise to lemon soufflé.  That’s what makes this course so different and why it’s so easy to come in every day.

Honeycomb ice cream

Honeycomb ice cream

We were working on buffet food today, who knew boiling an egg was so complicated??

Old Fashioned Egg Mayonnaise

Old Fashioned Egg Mayonnaise

The Watercress was a really good base, and showed off the wonderful colours.

Pea and Coriander Soup

Pea and Coriander Soup

I got the seasoning right first time today with the soup, I sometimes struggle to do this but I think my palate is improving.

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

Before demo we all walked down to the smoke-house when Bill Casey smokes Irish Organic Salmon.

The Smoking Man!

The Smoking Man!

The place was so clean, and all white, so the fish being salted really stood out.

Organic Salmon with Salt

Organic Salmon with Salt

He has been making Smoked Salmon for over 30 years, and I can imagine, although the work is arduous, especially at his bust times, that standing there, removing pin bones, while looking out over the fields is not always too much of a chore.

More helleborus

More helleborus

 

 

 

 

 

March- the final straight

As I drove down to “School” this morning, in the snow, I reminded myself how much I like March; as the daffodils are coming up, and the days are getting longer.  I even saw lambs last week near Durrus, on the way to Blair’s Cove.  And I thought of the below poem, that I learnt in school.  While there I was not really an Emily Dickinson fan, but a little like my relationship with March, I’ve grown to appreciate her merits.

Snow in March, Clonfadda

Snow in March, Clonfadda

Dear March – Come in

Emily Dickinson(1830-1886)

Dear March – Come in -

How glad I am

I hoped for you before

Put down your Hat

You must have walked

How out of Breath you are

Dear March, how are you, and the Rest

Did you leave Nature well

Oh March, Come right upstairs with me

I have so much to tell

 

I got your Letter, and the Birds

The Maples never knew that you were coming

I declare – how Red their Faces grew

But March, forgive me

And all those Hills you left for me to Hue

There was no Purple suitable

You took it all with you

 

Who knocks? That April

Lock the Door

I will not be pursued

He stayed away a Year to call

When I am occupied

But trifles look so trivial

As soon as you have come

 

That blame is just as dear as Praise

And Praise as mere as Blame

The View over Ballycotton and Doneenmacotter

The View over Ballycotton and Doneenmacotter

A night in the City

During Wine Lecture, our esteemed lecturer, Colm McCan mentioned he was attending the “Variations on a theme ” night in Jacques, Oliver Plunkett Street, as part of the International Wine and Food Society launch of their 2015 calendar.  He was looking to bring some students in to see what it was all about.

Jane Murphy from Ardsallagh Cheese spoke about her business, how she got started, and how it expanded.  She is passionate about her product, and not afraid of sticking to her guns, and doing it her way.

First Tasting plate of Ardsallagh Cheese

First Tasting plate of Ardsallagh Cheese

She was absolutely perfect to talk about, and showcase her cheese on the five tastes.  On one course we had the cheese with a kind of cooked potato and beetroot mash/ pancake.  The little bit of chilli on top helped lighten this dish.  The lamb chop was beautifully cooked and the addition of the goats cheese did not make the dish too much which was surprising.

My favourite was the sweet course, it was so simple.  Some slightly sweetened and seasoned with vanilla cheese, stuffed into a date, on top of a round of blood orange.  The colours, textures and flavours were so good we were practically begging for more.  We also found a bottle of this wine on the menu.  And were delighted!

Beauregard Mirouze

Beauregard Mirouze

The two sisters Jacques and Eithne made us feel so welcome, and their staff were so very good at their job.  It was lovely to see Billy Lyons in attendance, even if Clare was in absentia. I am seriously considering joining, and looking at the itinerary, I’d better join quick before word spreads.

 

The Healthy Option?

Week 8 has been hectic.  After the Opera night I went straight into theory day.  The morning was a full blown express train journey through cooking for vegetarians.  The flavours and smells were exciting and exotic, and the dishes just kept coming.  I’ve no idea how Rachel and Emer got it all done.

Dishes at the End of Vegetarian Demo

Dishes at the End of Vegetarian Demo

Needless to say lunch was a real success, even if I did sneak a lamb chop in there.

Ahem.  Vegetarian Day

Ahem. Vegetarian Day

The afternoon was the wine lecture, this week we had a guest speaker, Pascal Rossignol, from Le Caveau Wine Imports and Shop, Kilkenny.  The topic of the lecture was natural wines, organic wines, and bio-dynamic wines.  Pascal is originally from Gevrey-Chambertin, Burgundy, and has wine in his veins so to speak.  Still softly spoken in that Gallic way, Pascal spoke very clearly about the differences between the three sections.  Sulphur is naturally occurring in all wine, but the addition of sulphides to wine is the differentiator here.  Organic white wine is allowed a level of approx. 150 ppm (red wine lower again, 100 ppm), whereas bio- dynamic, a kind of super charged organic growing style, allows a much lower level, by EU standards.

In the United States however, they have completely gone in the opposite direction, they only allow a measly 10ppm in white wine (it can be as high as 350ppm in “conventional” wine).  Leading experts to believe that this is damaging the organic section of wine in the US, creating an even more niche market, when organic wine is so much more than the level of sulphides.  All countries monitor the amount of SO2 present in wines. Sulfur dioxide occurs naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process. Sulphites in wine have been added for hundreds of years as a preservative. Ancient Greek texts refer to sulphur as having beneficial properties in wine.

In case you are still confused, here’s some information you may find on wine labels in relation to organic wine:

  • On the US market, for a wine to be labelled ‘Organic’ and bear the USDA organic seal, it must be made from 95% organically grown ingredients. It thus may contain up to 5 % produce from conventional farming. Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Europe organic label
  • A European Union regulation states that only foods containing at least 95 % organic ingredients may use the EU organic logo. This Regulation allows the ‘accidental or technically unavoidable’ GMO (or GE food) up to 0.9 % in products thus labelled GM produce may notably reach fermenting grapes.
  • France organic label

    AB is a logo owned by the French state. It stands for ‘Agriculture Biologique’. Products can be labelled with this mark when they contain at least 95 percent organic components, were produced or processed within the EU, and were certified by one of the inspection bodies accredited by the State agency.

Does this help? Probably not, as we heard Maria from the vineyard in Barcelona talking about how difficult it was to attain and maintain the organic standard paperwork, almost requiring an extra member of staff.  Therefore producers may well be producing, organically, or hopefully sympathetically with the environment, but not having the “mark”.

Some of the wines tasted in the Natural/ Organic/ Bio-Dynamic Wines Class

Some of the wines tasted in the Natural/ Organic/ Bio-Dynamic Wines Class

There are four points at which sulphites are commonly used in conventional wine-making, although the winemaker may choose to make further additions if he is feeling nervous.

  • Picking: Sulphur is applied in the form of metabisulfite to inhibit the action of native yeasts and prevent oxidation. It means the grapes don’t have to be rushed to the winery.
  • Crushing: Sulphur is added to prevent fermentation from beginning with ambient yeasts before cultured yeasts can be added. Commercial yeasts are bred to be more resistant to sulphur dioxide.
  • Fermentation: Sulphur is applied at any point during fermentation, but most commonly at the end to stop or avoid malolactic fermentation. A natural winemaker has to wait for the malo to finish naturally.
  • Bottling: Sulphur is added to prevent oxidation or any microbial action in the bottled wine. In sweet wines there is the danger that fermentation will restart.

A natural wine maker would only ever use sulphur at bottling, only in white wines, and only in very small quantities. This sets the natural wine maker apart, almost grape and vine led wine making, as opposed to a commercial timeline.  I look at it like this, Natural wines are a movement, not a label.

A natural wine is one with:

  1. organically-grown grapes;
  2. harvested by hand;
  3. rushed to the winery;
  4. fermented on wild yeasts;
  5. low levels of sulphites(or none at all).
A further selection of wine tasted during the lecture

A further selection of wine tasted during the lecture

Although the prosecco was not to my taste, the wines were very pleasing on the palate, and there was certainly no feel of dirty boots so to speak.  I think these methods of production are only going to improve, both the wine, and the environment, and that can’t be a bad thing surely?

After all, it is said the best fertilizer for the soil is the farmers boots. Never a truer word was said.

 

 

A night at the Opera

Tonight I went to see Der Fliedende Hollander, ”The Flying Dutchman” being live streamed from London, from the Royal Opera House, in the Grain Store at Ballymaloe.

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman

Although songs from The Rocky Horror Show might be more catchy (who DOESN’T love There’s a light?), this un-intervaled two and a half hours , is a story filled with typical Wagner stormy orchestration, and strong male vocals, especially Bryn Terfel.  The live streaming also benefits those among us not understanding the German vocals, as it is sub titled.  But you don’t really need them, as the message is strong and clear.

Simon Callow (From Four Weddings and a Funeral, and many many other films, TV appearances ), gave the introduction to this opera, introducing both the conductor, and various actors involved.

What struck me was one sentence about Wagner’s score.  That he was not afraid of silence.  And used silence in this immense work to portray love and recognition, in the middle of the storm.  And I think that sometimes, a little silence while weathering a storm is essential.

 

A room full of tarts..

As Dame Edna put it so beautifully on the Great British Bake off for Comic Relief last week, today we had a room full of tarts. And then some.  I did a little sneaky practice yesterday and made the Normandy Pear Tart.

Normandy Pear Tart

Normandy Pear Tart

Today, however it was the turn of the Apricot and Frangipane tart.  I am a fan of these tarts (quelle surprise you might say), and really enjoyed putting it together.

Apricot and Frangipane Tart

Apricot and Frangipane Tart

And I think I might even put a tart on my final exam menu.  Of course it would be foolish to take such a bold step without practicing them all again.

We also showcased smoked fish today as a starter, and I was particularly happy with my presentation of one of my plates.

The plating begins.

The plating begins.

 

The finished product: A plate of smoked fish.

The finished product: A plate of smoked fish.

I particularly liked the smoked trout.  The intense flavour married very well with the more subtle smoked tuna.

Prep for plate no 2

Prep for plate no 2

And the finished article

Starter of Smoked Fish (no. 2)

Starter of Smoked Fish (no. 2)

We had sirloin for our main course, and the teachers emphasized how expensive good cuts of beef are, and also what to look out for when buying steak.  I remember when in Kevin Thornton’s restaurant in Dublin, while filming Heat! how he showed us how to trim the fillets so carefully, and to really take your time trimming the meat.

Sirloin Steak, with french fired onions and wild garlic leaves.

Sirloin Steak, with french fired onions and wild garlic leaves.

So we ate quite well today, considering it was a Monday.  I even managed to squeeze in a taste of Gran Marnier Souffle, which was completely devine.  And I mean that, even after tasting all the tarts.

Gran Marnier Souffle

Gran Marnier Souffle

 

 

 

 

Once on the lips….

Twice on the hips.  Or so they say. And never more true then with pastry I think.  But I really love pastry, in all it’s guises, be it a mince pie at Christmas, or the golden brown covering to a chicken pie.

This week we took a leap forward in pastry making to Flaky Pastry.

The multiple additions of the butter

The multiple additions of the butter

There are multiple stages to making flaky pastry (all of which involve lots of butter), but each stage involves only a few minutes actual hands on, then lots of fridge time for the pastry.  So we rolled and squared our sides, and rolled and squared our sides, and added butter… you get the gist.

Then a final overnight in the fridge.  That was yesterday.  Today was pie and stew day, so oxtail, beef and oyster, and my task, Italian Beef stew were all on the menu.

Italian Beef Stew

Italian Beef Stew

And apples tarts for desserts, so lots of opportunity to use the aforemade flaky.  And because I like being a little retro, and because it is truly YUM, I asked my incredibly patient teacher would it be possible to make mille feuille.  With only the slightest of eye rolls (I jest, she was as enthusiastic as I was!), we embarked on the road to pastry pinnacles.

Drum Roll please ….

My Mille feuille with homemade lemon curd

My Mille feuille with homemade lemon curd

 

 

Better late than never

As you know, I love food history, and reading about food history, but last night I got so wrapped up in reading about Pancake tuesday that it was Ash Wednesday before I saw it was FAR too late to start a blogpost.  So.  Tonight it is.

The earliest mentions of pancakes being eaten regularly the day before Lent is in the 15th Century, these “pancakes” were thicker than our modern nod to the French crepe.  It was around the 18th Century that the pancakes became thinner, under the influence of French cooking, that was becoming popular at the time.

Woman Baking Pancakes Adriaan de Lelie, picture c/o Rijks museum c. 1790 - c. 1810

Woman Baking Pancakes
Adriaan de Lelie, picture c/o Rijks museum c. 1790 – c. 1810

The ingredients involved in the pancake making represented four pillars of the Christian faith — eggs for creation, flour as the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness and milk for purity.  The term “shrove” comes from an old English verb “shrive,” meaning “confess all sins,” it was seen as the last opportunity for religious observers to indulge themselves before giving up food for Lent. Pancakes were adopted as the Shrove Tuesday food of choice because they contain many of the things that were forbidden during Lent, including butter, fat and eggs.  Often the first three pancakes  would be marked with the sign of the cross then sprinkled with salt to ward off evil.  These would then be set aside.  The eldest unmarried girl in the family would be let toss the first pancake.  Success meaning she would be married within the year.

What was interesting to me was the similar “day” elsewhere in the world. In Finland the day is called laskiainen and is generally celebrated by eating green pea soup and a pastry called laskiaispulla (sweet bread filled with whipped cream and jam or almond paste).

Pea soup, and cream filled buns

Pea soup, and cream filled buns

And in Iceland the day is known as Sprengidagur (Bursting Day) and is marked by eating salted meat and peas! Think I will stick to the pancakes!

What pancakes did I make yesterday?  Only one type for a change.  Salted caramel ones.  Divine.  Seriously.

Tuesday 17 Feb 010

 

 

11 Essential elements …

On our farm tour the first day, Darina spoke at length about how good soil contained 11 essential elements and minerals.

Below are the 11 “essential” things I’ve learned in my first six weeks.

1.  I am not getting enough coffee.  Or tea for that matter, and front loading at the weekend doesn’t really help.

Breakfast coffee

Breakfast coffee

2. The early bird gets organised.  The sooner you get into the kitchen and get started, the easier your morning will be.  Generally. But there have been exceptions.  This morning I went in early and made some really delicious spotted dog.

Spotted Dog

Spotted Dog

3. Lunch is always good, even when you think it might not be your favourite.  Try everything.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

My Bantry Irish Stew from today

My Bantry Irish Stew from today

4.  Everyone is there to help you.  Every teacher I’ve had, every person I’ve stopped to speak to, is there to help you.  And get to know them, their names, who they are.  Your life will be better for it.

5. Some days cooking are easier than others.  Sometimes I wonder how I manage to cater on an often large scale at home, when I can sometimes struggle to get two dishes out in 3 hours!

My Lough Ness Monster Choux pastries took all morning!

My Lough Ness Monster Choux pastries took all morning!

6.  The surroundings of the cookery school really are amazing.  The flowers that are just starting to appear, the piglets born last week.  It really is a cocoon of nature.

Snowdrops in the dining room

Snowdrops in the dining room

7.  I really appreciate the family back home, and all the sacrifices they are making so I can fulfill my dream.

Nigel feeding the "babies"

Nigel feeding the “babies”

8. I am more in love with cooking than ever, each weekend I go home and can’t wait to cook recipes we’ve made the previous week.

Chilli's being prep#d for the colorado sauce for the chilli con carne

Chilli’s being prep#d for the colorado sauce for the chilli con carne

9. I REALLY want to write more about food, every day I find a new ingredient, or snippet of information and want to explore it more.

10. I can’t wait to go in each day to talk to my fellow students about food.  Being with so many food loving people is fantastic, nobody even looks twice when you try every dessert on offer.  There are so many nationalities, backgrounds and skill levels it is such an opportunity to learn from each other aswell.

11. Did I mention I’m not getting enough caffeine??  Seriously, my number 11 is just to do it.  Follow your dreams.  And dream big, make them count. Life’s too short not to.

Spring flowers on the farm.

Spring flowers on the farm.