Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Turn it up to Eleven

This morning I had to show up at 8 AM for "stock making duty". There are about 30 daily jobs (bread making, gathering herbs, gathering greens, milking cow, etc) that get divided up among the students. Some require the student to come in early, so early I came. After we put two enormous pots on to boil filled with chicken carcasses, carrots, onions, celery, thyme, water, and so on (the basic ingredients for chicken stock), I headed to kitchen 2 to prepare for the day.

Kitchen Two

Throughout the morning, I made a loaf of wholegrain bread, a rhubarb crumble, and a melon and grape salad. Surprisingly, there were no major casualties to report! Below is a picture of my bread and salad, ready for tasting and grading (the crumble was still in the oven). Any vodka enthusiasts out there could turn the melon and grape salad, which has citrus juices and mint, into a nice cocktail.

Another task we had to complete this morning was the famous dejointing of a chicken. It was slimy, often cumbersome, and highly satisfying. The trick is to use your hands (particularly your thumb) to feel where the joints are to guide your knife. The knife should slide right through where the bones meet (the joint), rather than labor through bone. And, as always here at Ballymaloe, try to cut as close to the carcass as possible to avoid wasting any meat.

The view from my workstation...

Our afternoon demonstration taught us how to make some Middle Eastern dishes, such as baba ganoush (AKA smoky eggplant dip) and various versions of raita (yogurt based sauce to go with spicy meats), followed by a quick lesson on creme caramel (first cousin of creme brulee). Here are some tips picked up:

- Food processors (like a Cuisinart) are definitely worth the money (an essential kitchen staple)

- Order a glass of the house wine to start when dining out. This will give you a clue to how seriously the restaurant takes its wine list. If it is a good wine, you can trust that your money will be well spent on any bottle. If it is a bad one, don't waste your money on an expensive bottle.

- Don't be afraid to ask for a wine recommendation from the waiter. If you are hosting, you can subtly let your server know your price range ("I was wondering about this one...") without letting your guests know how much (or how little!) you want to spend.

- Check the wine's label when the waiter brings it to your table (both the name and the year). You would not want to accidentally drink a bottle 3 times as expensive as what you thought you were paying!

- Only send a wine back if it is bad ("corked"). If the wine is fine but it is not what you hoped for, drink it and do not order it again!

- If you are interested in learning more about wines, look for books by Andrew Jefford.

- Pine nuts are OK to keep in the freezer. Like walnuts, they go bad easily so a freezer is a great way to make them last.

- When splurging on saffron ("the world's most expensive herb"), make sure it is actually saffron! Clue #1 that it's real: there are actual long and thin strands (not jumbled flakes). Clue #2: some of the strands are orange amongst the majority of deep red ones (if they are all a uniform color, they have probably been dyed, and are probably not the real deal).

- When cooking meat in a sauce (like beef stew), the sauce should not boil. Turn down the heat and slow cook! Incidentally, the opposite is true when cooking meat without sauce (like a steak). Turn up the heat and seer the juices in

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