Tag Archives: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Back in the Bubble Again- Litfest 2016

Litfest 2016 was on in Ballymaloe and it’s environs.  And I was there with bells on.  Well not quite bells, chef’s whites and apron was the deal for the Saturday and Sunday.

Working with the tireless duo of Florrie Bolger and Pam Black, they make the demonstrations look effortless and streamlined.  And I know both would say that they are backed up by a team.  But the team is only as good as it’s leaders.  And despite one of them being fired (Sorry- in joke) in the middle of service- it went so well.

The first thing that always hits me is the variety- of everything- be it people-

The Team

“Kate’s” Team

The flowers…

Flowers for Litfest Demonstrations

Flowers for Litfest Demonstrations

The flours….

Flours for Claire Ptak's Demo

Flours for Claire Ptak’s Demo

Add the recipes into the mix and you’ve the perfect combination.  When you work behind the scenes you don’t always get to see whats going on in “front”, but this year I must have been extra specially good as I was promoted to Number 2 for the wonderful Claire Ptak’s demonstration.  She is an absolute dote.  And a real baker, knowing by the feel of the ingredients whether to add more or subtract.  I really learnt so much from her about using different flours, which was great.

Rye Digestives

Rye Chocolate Dipped Digestives

Claire was a complete natural in demo, and herself and Jeremy made a great team

Demo at Litfest

Claire and Jeremy

All in all it, once again was a great experience.  Meeting so many old friends, and making new ones.  I didn’t get to spend any time at all in Ballymaloe House or the Big Shed, but I believe, once again, it was fabulous.

I’ll definitely be back again next year.  And hopefully sooner.

LitFest Adventures

I was so excited to volunteer for the LitFest last weekend at Ballymaloe, and even more excited to be able to work again at the cookery school.

The apron was donned, and the knives sharpened.  Felt a bit naked walking in without my order of work or my recipes, but other than that, when I went into Kitchen 3 Friday morning early, it was like I never left.

Cabbage, apple and raisin salad

Cabbage, apple and raisin salad

There were demos of every kind going on all weekend and I was very privileged to see chefs from all corners of the globe.

I also had the privilege of hearing Alice Waters in conversation with John McKenna on the Saturday morning.  It was so much more than just a history lesson of her life, it was a journey of social and political  commentary in America.  Simplicity is her motto, and an appreciation of the food grown around her and the way it should be treated.  She considers food a platform on which social change can be built.

John McKenna in Conversation with Alice Waters

John McKenna in Conversation with Alice Waters

The “Big Shed” contains all the food stalls, and is always a hive of activity during the festival, the decorations were eye catching, unique and quirky.

Magical Lighting

Magical Lighting

There was an array of wine and beer to be had, and the obligatory elderflower cordial.

The Big Shed

The Big Shed

The long tables are a great idea, and make for conversation. interaction and general friendliness.

More intricate lighting

More intricate lighting

But back in the cookery school we were very busy with Demo prep.  The first one I helped with was hosting Allegra McEvedy.  She believes that there are more ways for a chef to make a difference than by gaining stars, and that good food should be available to everybody.

The dream team

The dream team

The next demo was for Leylie Hayes, with Hugo Arnold, from the Avoca Group.  I have regularly cooked from the Avoca Cafe book, so to see the recipes in action was very exciting.  I got to make the carrot jam, which is probably the most unusual jam I’ve ever made- but probably have never made anything which such care!

Carrot Jam in the making

Carrot Jam in the making

I am looking forward to adding the two breads to my repertoire also.

The Team with Leylie Hayes and Hugo Arnold

The Team with Leylie Hayes and Hugo Arnold

Between all the excitement I also managed to meet Prue Leith, whom I have been a fan of for many years.  She was so nice, and had no problems at all posing for a picture.

Just a little Star struck

Just a little Star struck

It was a completely manic weekend, I fell into bed Sunday night content and delighted that I had remembered most of what I had learnt in the 12 weeks.  And I can’t WAIT for next year.

With a special mention to the Cookery school team, including Darina, Rory and Rachel.  All of whom it was great to work with again.

When life gives you lemons you make…

LOTS!

Lots of lemons

Lots of lemons

Nigel got lots of lemons recently, and I decided to make a few different recipes.  The first was fluffy lemon pudding, which is a real family favourite.  Very simple to make, once in the oven it transfers into layers.  The top layer being a sponge, then a sauce, then a lemon curd at the bottom.  The picture was hard to get as I was fighting off the family at the time.

The remaining lemon pudding with layers of lemoniness

The remaining lemon pudding with layers of lemoniness

Next was homemade lemonade.  Everyday on the Ballymaloe 12 Week Certificate Course, someone has the task of lemonade duty.  Its fun, easy, and everyone loved having lemonade at lunchtime.

We had lots of lemons, which involved lots of squeezing.  Luckily I have willing helpers!

My lemon squeezer

My lemon squeezer

Next was the sugar syrup prep, which only takes 10 minutes, and not too much washing up.

Sugar Syrup

Sugar Syrup

Voila! Ready for diluting and serving with lots of ice in sunny weather.

The side effect of lots of lemonade is lots of halves of skin.  So candied peel is the best way to use up these left over lemons.  Darina’s recipe is easy, and in a number of stages, which makes it easy to fit in to the kitchen  schedule.  And you’ll never eat the bought plasticy gel peel again. Promise.

Lemons soaking

Lemons soaking

The lemons are soaked overnight, then simmered until soft, a little like making marmalade.  The pith, and membranes are then removed, and the shells then simmered in a sugar syrup until the syrup is at the thread stage.

Stage 3 candied peel

Stage 3 candied peel

I should have removed the peel earlier and simmered the syrup further, to give a lighter colour to the peel, but it still tastes delicious, and is now jarred for use.

Candied peel jarred and ready for use

Candied peel jarred and ready for use

And finally lemon meringue pie.  The Sunday treat.  And one of my favourite desserts, that I never normally order when out as so many factors can be disappointing, either the pastry, the curd, or the meringue.

Tart shell ready for blind baking

Tart shell ready for blind baking

The pastry and lemon curd is made in advance, and although the time is required to get the pastry shell perfect, it’s time well spent.

And then the meringue…

Ready for baking

Ready for baking

And the finished article.  It was barely out of the oven before the family dived on it, it could have done with a couple of minutes resting.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

 

 

A little piece of tranquilty

As we hurtle to the finish line at a rate of knots, we were invited, en masse to Ballymaloe House today, for a tour, a chat, and a cup of tea.

We had started the day with a wonderful sushi demonstration (who KNEW there were so many types and variations)

Sushi

Sushi

We then had our usual, and last Wednesday lunch in the Garden Cafe. After which Darina brought us foraging around the cookery school gardens.

Darina showing us the Allium Bar

Darina showing us the leeks

Here she is showing us Allium ampeloprasum babingtonii, (took me AGES to find this genus).  The history of which is very interesting.  As a Charles Darwin fan, I was delighted to discover that this member of the leek family is named after Charles Cardale Babington, a contemporary of Darwin.  And it is hypothesized that the origins of this relatively frost hardy vegetable lies with the monks. I’m not entirely sure WHY this leek was named after Charles (1808 – 1895). In 1840 he wrote about the differences between true leeks, Allium porrum, and Allium ampeloprasum in the Annals of Natural History, where he writes that on Guernsey he had seen Allium ampeloprasum reproducing from bulbils (like a topset) produced on the flower head.  And maybe he also specified this very local Allium species then.

and so onwards.  It was a walk of melancholy for me, however, as we took practically the same route that we did on our first day, albeit the weather was better today.

Sorrel starting to sprout

Sorrel starting to sprout

It signifies the beginning of the end.  Although like the sprouting herbs, I’m sure we are all waiting to sprout forth with all our new found knowledge.

We then travelled to Ballymaloe House, where we, en masse, split into groups and had a tour, and a cup of afternoon tea.

Afternoon Tea at Ballymaloe House

Afternoon Tea at Ballymaloe House

The history of the house, and the Norman castle beforehand was fascinating, and Hazel was very interesting, especially explaining about the different art pieces hanging in the different parts of the house.

And as I looked out at the daffodils from the Yeat’s Room, I felt a pang.  I’m going to miss this.

The view from the Yeat's Room

The view from the Yeat’s Room

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

More cheesiness

We get to make our own cheese.  Now all I need is to grow grapes and my life is complete.  Only joking… but I have wandered around cheese making for quite some time.  We’ve bought rennet, moulds etc, and really I just need to get on with it.  We did make a cheddar-esque cheese at home at some stage, and in actual fact, although we really didn’t have a notion of what we were doing, it tasted quite cheddar like, not a threat in the cheese production world however.

Clancy met the eager cheesemakers in the dairy, and we donned VERY fetching aprons.  As I microbiologist at heart, and by training, I fully appreciate how cleaniness in this case is essential.

My fetching Dairy wear

My fetching Dairy wear

Clancy had put the milk on to heat, and had added the vegetable rennet and culture.  As an aside, traditionally the rennet came from the lining of the fourth stomach of young calves, this was chopped and added to the milk, but in this case, and nowadays, the rennet is produced in the lab so we can look the calves straight in the eye when leaving the dairy (mind you – don’t mention veal!)

All hands on deck

All hands on deck

Next we removed, through a sieve, one third of the whey, and topped it up with warm water.

Removing approximately one third of the whey.

Removing approximately one third of the whey.

This is to “wash” the curd, and the warm water raises the temperature of the mixture higher, while our stirring mixed it intensively with the water.  Clancy carefully monitored the temperature, and I timed the stages.

Then Clancy put “our” curds into clean mould “nets”, these were left to the side while all were filled, and then topped up, as even the simple act of sitting for a short period of time meant that more liquid had drained.

Filling the cheese moulds

Filling the cheese moulds

These moulds were then covered with a lid and weight.  Clancy then instructed us on the art of turning the cheese (to reduce the appearance of elephants foot!).  This looks a lot easier than it actually is.  We all took turns at turning our cheese, and some kind co- students offered to further turn my cheese the two more times it required that first night.  At the weekend it was un-moulded and washed in brine, and placed in the temperature controlled cabinets.  Here it stays, and we turn it daily.

My cheese! The second one in on the left.

My cheese! The second one in on the left.

Cheeses that have been there for longer, have different coloured rinds.

The collection of cheeses.

The collection of cheeses.

Our cheese really needs to sit for 3 months before tasting.  Not enough time for me to make wine to go with it, but I may just manage some cheese biscuits.

 

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…..