Saturday, October 31, 2009

Forty Two

Is this the proverbial half-way point? I think it is...

Happy Halloween! Saturday morning arrived in all its wonder. I fantastically had NOTHING to do! After a run and some job research (does Ina Garten need a personal assistant?), I went over some of my notes to see if there were any tips I had left out!

Here they are:

- If you are in the market for a juicer, there are two types: the centrifuge juicer is best used for apples, carrots, beets, etc., while the green star (or masticating) juicer is better for greens (kale, spinach, etc) and wheat grass. If I had to pick one, I'd go with centrifuge.

- Syria is an almost entirely self-sufficient nation food wise (our headmistress just returned from a 5 day research trip).

- Apricots are delicious with cardemon seeds

- Tapas are traditionally bitefuls of food, while Raciones can be slightly larger portions

- Ferran Adria, head chef of El Bulli in Spain (and molecular gastronomy master), is said to be one of the most innovative chefs in the world. El Bulli has been named the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine the last 4 years in a row.

- October in Alba, Italy is truffle season. Its on my list of things to do in life!

- 5% of bottled wine is spoiled by a tainted cork

- Store walnut oil and hazelnut oil in the fridge, because they are more likely to go rancid. Also, buy them in small containers because they go bad quickly.

- A good general rule: Foods (and Wines) that are grown together should be eaten together.

- The brown vs. white rice debate: after boiling, they both have the same vitamin content and they both have the same GI (Glycemic Index- how quickly the carbohydrate digests and releases glucose into your blood stream). Equally nutritious, eat the one you think tastes better!

- Eating foods with a low GI is key for prolonged, "slow release" daily energy

- Another kitchen staple: sea salt. Perfect for sprinkling on salads, breads, meats, and so on for a great burst of flavor.

- Some stores sell "Jam sugar", which is regular sugar with added pectin (what makes jam set). We do not use that here, because it can often make the jams set too much. But, feel free to try it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 41!

For some reason, people (and by people, I mean me) seem to wake up every Friday morning craving pizza. Luckily for us students (and by students, I mean me), Friday was Pizza Day! Thanks to the creative juices of many chefs around the globe, Pizza has developed into a canvas on which to paint any innumerable amount of flavor combinations. No longer only the tomato sauce & cheese scenario, pizza can be sweet or savory, eaten for breakfast or lunch or dinner or even dessert, with pretty much anything on top. My favorite ideas of the day were a pizza with cream cheese, smoked salmon, dill and capers and a pizza with grated apple and Gorgonzola. Then again, fresh tomato sauce with buffalo mozzarella and basil will never disappoint this voracious pizza eater.

The Cookery School has its own wood burning oven, which gets lit at 7 AM to be hot enough in time for lunch. Our headmistress bought it from a company called Valoriani ( in Italy, a producer of prefabricated wood burning ovens. Apparently, building a wood burning oven is a scientific art, so it might be best to buy one pre-made! Once hot, a 12 inch pizza cooks in 90 seconds. It is the ultimate fast food.

Some of my favorite pizza places in the States include Posto Pizza ( on 2nd Avenue and 18th Street in New York, The Upper Crust Pizzeria ( on Charles Street in Boston, and Christian's Pizza in Charlottesville, Virginia. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

After the morning Pizza demonstration and a feast for lunch, I got the midterm exam over with! Admittedly, it was quite a lot of build up for a rather relaxed afternoon. I identified 10 herbs and 8 salad leaves, set a table, poured a glass of wine, chopped and sweated an onion, chopped and sauteed mushrooms, finely chopped herbs, and made a paper parchment bag. I managed to win the lottery and did not have to fillet a fish or joint a chicken! Overall, I think I got off easy...

Friday's Tips!

- From Italian Cooking Master, Marcella Hazan: If you're using grated mozzarella for pizza (as opposed to hand rolled fresh mozzarella), drizzle it with olive oil to greatly enhance the flavor.

- For any type of yeast dough (for bread or pizza), use strong flour. It has more gluten and will stretch more with the rising yeast.

- Bread is made with four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. Think about that the next time you look at a supermarket loaf's lengthy list of ingredients!

- Try having a pizza party with friends! Before your guests arrive, make the pizza dough and roll it out into rounds (you can stack the rounds on sheets of parchment paper). Assemble various toppings in bowls out on the counter, and open a few bottles of wine. Everyone can make his own!

- Craving something sweet? Pizza with nutella, bananas, and strawberries is DE-licious.

- When chopping onions, breath through your mouth. It apparently helps with the tears! (as someone who ONLY breathes through her mouth, I cannot really comment).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty. I guess I'm officially "middle aged" in the land of the Ballymaloe 12 Week Course. I started work this morning making a granary loaf, made with granary flour (a mix of malted wheat, rye, and whole wheat kernels). It is a straight forward yeast bread which took an eternity to rise (the thick granary flour really weighed down the dough). So, in the meantime, I worked on a Lamb Stew with onions, carrots and turnips (turnips are in season!). When I think stew, I think Le Creuset ( This company will hold a special place in my heart until the day that I die! Like Kleenex or Pampers, Le Creuset is synonymous for the product they produce: the cast iron "french oven". They are expensive, but last a lifetime!

While my stew stewed in the oven, and my dough rose ever so reluctantly, I made some mashed turnips with caramelized onions on top. We also went over some of the techniques for tomorrow's exam, including segmenting an orange, making an omelette, and fashioning a paper piping bag. I love the midterm buzz circulating the school grounds. Walk into any cottage after school, and you'll find students hovering over a discount, store bought chicken (3 for 10 quid!), slowly following the steps to dejoint it. The spectators congratulate the dejointer as he or she successfully pops the leg out of its socket and locates the dreaded oyster. Still others are chopping away at onions or filleting a fish. It beats any midterm studying I can remember!

For the afternoon demonstration, we watched our headmistress make a plateau de fruits de mer, comprised of prawns, shrimp, mussels, clams, periwinkles, and oysters. She garnished the platter with a few wedges of lemon, some freshly foraged watercress, and some seaweed gathered from Ballycotton Beach. We also learned how to make a meat pie with homemade pastry, poached plums, banana bread, gingerbread, carrot cake, and parsnip and maple syrup cake.

Your daily dose...

- When making stew, season each element well before adding it to the pot to cook.

- Generally, you should only eat oysters in months with a letter R in them (September through April). With oysters, do not bother if they are not fresh. When they're fresh, the simpler the better! Right down the hatch!

- With bivalves (mussels, clams, cockles, palourdes), do not buy or cook them unless they are alive! You can tell they're alive because the shells will be tightly shut. If one is slightly open, tap it a few times and the animal inside with snap it shut (if it does not shut, it's dead - do not cook it). Once cooked, they open on their own. Again, if some do not open, do not eat them.

- Irish Moss, or carrageen, is a wonderfully nutritious type of seaweed. It boosts your metabolism to break down fats, and is good for chest colds. You can find it in specialty shops!

- If you have a fruit that is inedibly under-ripe (plums, peaches, etc), try poaching them! They will soften and burst with flavor.

- My friends and I always joke about Ina Garten's obsession with "good vanilla extract". What she really means is Expensive vanilla extract! If you are tight on cash, but recognize the difference that quality vanilla extract makes, try making your own! Soak a few vanilla pods in a couple cups of vodka or brandy for a few weeks. It sounds crazy, but I'm curious (and broke) enough to try it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 39!

Tapas! (Manchego and Quince on crusty bread)

Another week, another theory day! We tackled wines from Australia
and New Zealand in the morning, followed by Spanish Tapas in the afternoon (complete with a Sherry tasting!). Before we kicked off the day, we went over our cheese of the week (Cheddar) and the biscuit of the week (caramelized pecan squares and caramelized almond squares). Cheddar is the most labor-intensive all the farmhouse cheeses to make, because of a process called "Cheddaring" which involves stacking and periodically turning the curds (AKA the solids of the coagulated milk) by hand over a period of time. The cheesemaker does this until the curds reach a certain acidity, and then they're cut, salted, and pressed into cheese molds to form what we know as cheddar cheese. We had a cheese tray to taste at lunch, laden with various Irish (Wexford, Dublin, Charleville, and Mount Callan) and British (Quickes, Keen's, and Mongomery) Cheddars - delicious!

Soon, Colm McCan, the Sommelier at the Ballymaloe House (which just won Georgina Campbell's 2010 Wine Award!), emerged with John McDonald of Wine Australia ( to present a few bottles from the land down under. Though many pin Australia as a rookie on the wine bench, its winemaking tradition actually dates back to the 1800's. Presently, there are around 2,200 Australian winemakers, who produce 4% of the world's wines (about the same production as Bordeaux). It will be difficult to increase production beyond those numbers because of the scarcity of water in the region. As it goes, Australia has a reputation for producing big, heavy, over-oaked Chardonnay. However, recently many winemakers are blending in Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc grapes to lighten the taste.

After a short tea break, we were joined by Peter McDonald of Hunter Wines in New Zealand ( Hunter Wines in Marlborough has become world renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, which benefits from the long ripening period in the cooler climate. Peter works with his sister-in-law Jane Hunter ("the star of New Zealand wine"), who started the family run business with her late husband, Ernie. We tasted a Hunter's Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and then broke for lunch, which we ate with a glass of Hunter's Riesling.

Rory taught the afternoon Tapas demonstration, where he stressed the importance of authentic
ingredients when making tapas (Spanish olive oil, Spanish ham, etc). Tapas originally were free, and came with an ordered glass of sherry or wine (like bar nuts, if you will). The word tapas is believed to have come from the Spanish verb "tapar", meaning "to cover", because wine or sherry was served with a piece of bread over the rim of the wine glass to keep the flies out!

We watched Rory concoct a wide range of tapas, from simple marinated Aragon or Manzanilla Olives to more complicated Pulpo En Vinagrea (Octopus in a vinaigrette). When you're making tapas, often the simpler the better (a bite of marinated goats cheese, or a nibble of pata negra or serrano). Especially when you're making simple food, take care to use quality ingredients!

Tips, Tips, Tips!

- As a general "cheese rule", the bigger the block of cheese is as it ages, the better the cheese will be.

- By the time the grapes come into the winery to be pressed, the wine is already 75% made. Making the wine is the easy part, but growing the grapes is a whole different (and more difficult) ballgame.

- Turmeric has been found to be good for esophageal cancer.

- Sparkling wine is made by taking normal wine, bottling it, and adding a little additional yeast and sugar. The yeast feeds on the sugar and creates carbon dioxide bubbles in the process, which dissolve into the wine. This process is called "second fermentation".

- The cork of a bottle of sparkling wine has the same amount of pressure as the tire of a double decker bus. Pop it cautiously!

- Apparently, Rose is making a comeback! Brace yourself.

- If you ever see the "Brix" level highlighted on a wine label, it refers to the level of sugar in the grapes at harvest.

- 96% of all wine that is bought is consumed within 24 hours

- Screw tops (as opposed to corks) are not the "cheaper option", and have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the wine. It is a personal choice for the winemaker, as corks and screw tops each have their benefits and cons.

- Pinot Noir is the "holy grail" for winemakers. It is the most difficult to make because the Pinot Noir grape is so finicky.

- A couple "environmental awareness" terms: "food miles" refers to the distance a product travels before it arrives on your plate; the "FoodPrint" is the carbon footprint of the food you consume. Fewer "food miles" does not necessarily mean a lower "foodprint" (think about an organic, free-range chicken from 500 miles away vs. an industrial chicken from 50 miles away).

- When making meatballs, after mixing the ingredients into the meat, fry up a teaspoon of the mixture on a pan to taste it for seasoning. There is no point laboring to roll 30 meatballs if the seasoning is off!

- If you're interested in Tapas cooking, check out New Tapas by Fiona Dunlop and Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain by Penelope Casas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My typical Tuesday began with a trip to the greenhouse to memorize some greens. After that thrilling adventure, it was off to the kitchens for a morning of cooking! On the list for today were chocolate profiteroles and mini gratins of goats cheese and sundried tomato. It doesn't sound like much, but those sneaky profiteroles hide about four elements in one title. First I made the Choux "easier said than done" Pastry. I nearly passed out with exhaustion. Every fiber in my being burned as I dutifully "beat each egg vigorously" into the dough. Ten minutes and four and a half eggs later, I was ready to keel over. Apparently, you are supposed to "let the wooden spoon do the work", whatever that means.

After piping some blobs of pastry for the "puffs" and carrying the baking tray (with quivering, weary, spaghetti arms) to the oven, I moved onto the Creme Patisserie, or Pastry Cream (basically vanilla flavored custard). Then there was the Chantilly cream (AKA whipped cream and sugar), which gets folded into the Pastry Cream. I piped the Pastry/Chantilly Cream dynamic duo into the cooked puffs, and then made some chocolate sauce to top it all off. Delirious, I promptly ate approximately 5 profiteroles out of sheer exhaustion.

Somewhere in the whirlwind morning, I filleted a spare cod lying around for practice (you can tell it's a cod because it has a small goatee protruding from its chin, and because your teacher tells you it's a cod). Then we were off to lunch.

Despite (or perhaps because of) a "post bank holiday silence" in the room, the afternoon demonstration went well. We watched our teacher make various fish pates, breadsticks and "sunflower bread" (pictured above), different lamb stews, shortbread cookies, and fruit "fool". Fool is a dessert made with pureed fruit mixed with whipped cream, served cold with shortbread cookies. You can make raspberry fool, or blackcurrant fool, or, if you're Mr. T, whatever type of fool your heart pities.

shortcake with strawberry

As far as pates go, I have to admit they were pretty tasty. If you're like me and you're intrinsically wary of pate, try making it yourself so you can be sure about what the heck is in it. It's definitely more comforting and often more delicious.

Tuesday's Tips:

- Contrary to popular belief, browning meat before you put it in a stew does not seal in the juices. It does, however, greatly enhance the flavor- so keep at it!

- When making gravy, remember the cardinal rule: "degrease and deglaze". First, degrease the juices in the baking pan by skimming off any fat. Then, deglaze the pan by pouring in some stock and whisking up any precious flavor that has "glazed" to the bottom. This forms the base of your gravy.

- Nothing thinly slices a vegetable better t
han a Japanese mandolin. For shaving fennel bulbs for a salad or potatoes for potato chips, there's no substitute! If you find yourself desperate for a Japanese Mandolin, get one with removable blades so that you can sharpen it as it wears.

- Turnips are in season - try them out! Mashed, roasted, thrown into stew - the possibilities are endless (sort of).

- Is it goat cheese, goats cheese, or goat's cheese? I have no idea.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thirty Seven

Today is a Bank Holiday in Ireland, which means sadly we did not have any class! Judging by the state of Cork this morning when my flight landed, the Irish take Bank Holidays very, very seriously. Everything from the English Market to the Crawford Gallery was closed! My taxi driver back to Ballymaloe around 2 PM wagered that everyone was still asleep (I guess Irishmen take the night before a Bank Holiday seriously too).

Tomorrow we head into our sixth week of class, which culminates with a midterm technique exam and an herb/salad green identification. I guess I'll get to studying. Oriental Serifon. One down, a couple dozen to go.

Three Dozen!

It is not a trip to London unless you force your host out of bed to go sightseeing! My thoughtful friend put on a smile as I dragged her to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben.

En route, she thankfully showed me some spots off the well-beaten tourist path. We walked through East London where the Sunday UpMarket sets up shop every weekend ( Most of the stalls are in the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, but other stalls have built up around it. My two favorite were the "Game Burgers" stand, selling everything from Crocodile to Kangaroo burgers, and Anima's Cupcakes (her carrot and orange are pictured above).

We headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral, and then crossed the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to stroll along the South Bank towards Westminster. We took a break at Doggett's Pub near Blackfriar's Bridge to watch the much anticipated Manchester United vs. Liverpool football match (the underdog, Liverpool, won!). By twilight, I had my fix of the Houses of Parlement and Big Ben and, minding the gap, we headed home.

Thirty Five

After finishing class on Friday evening, I headed to the Cork Airport to catch a flight to London! I took the tube from Heathrow, and a three friend welcome wagon greeted me at the Paddington Train station. After catching up over a bottle of Chablis (I actually knew what I was drinking!), we went to bed ready for a full London day in the morning.

For breakfast, we stopped at the Fernandez & Wells Cafe in Soho (, a charming coffee shop which served strong lattes and flaky croissants. Their lemon drizzle cake wasn't too shabby, either! I took some serious notes for my imaginary and (hopefully) future specialty foods store and cafe!

We spent the afternoon wandering throughout Soho and the West End. That evening, we headed to Fulham for a few drinks and then traveled across town to the Commercial Tavern in Shoreditch. One takeaway: I thought New York was big until I came here! Or maybe Ballymaloe has just turned me into a country bumpkin?


Friday! It felt great to get back into the kitchens after a two day hiatus. I filleted a flat fish (a Plaice to be exact), whisked up a coriander aioli, segmented a grapefruit, practiced an omelette, constructed a piping bag with parchment paper (a technique we'll be tested on), and compiled a Provencale Bean Stew.

It was easier to fillet a flat fish compared to a round fish, because the former does not have "pin bones" protruding perpendicularly from its backbone. Pin bones are pesky little things that can be difficult to get out without damaging the fillet (if you've ever had a bone in your fish, it was probably a pin bone). With flat fish, the fillet comes right off the backbone, and you don't have to worry about picking out any pins. If you're doing this at home, make sure you have a flexible filleting knife- it makes all the difference! Trying to fillet a fish with a chopping knife is like trying to needlepoint with a chopstick.

Anyone can make his or her own aioli quite simply with the help of a food processor. Just mix egg yolks, some Dijon mustard (if you like), and any herbs (dill, coriander, basil, whatever...) in a Cuisinart while slowly drizzling in oil. It will soon emulsify, et voila! Homemade Aioli. You can play around with different flavors (sun-dried tomatoes, lemon, etc) to your heart's content.

Fish Curry with Rice Pilaf and Parsley

For afternoon demo, Rory showed us how to make various forms of a warm goats cheese salad, a granary bread (made with granary flour: a mix of malted wheat, rye, and whole wheat kernels), various fish dishes, profiteroles, and cheese puffs (made with choux pastry and Gruyere cheese). Before he began, we had a quick visit from Jane Murphy of Ardsallagh Goat's Cheese ( Like many of the Irish cheesemakers we've met, Jane's award winning cheese started by chance.

Goats Cheese Croquettes with Arugula

Three decades ago, her two young children had eczema. A traveling salesman noticed their skin and recommended introducing goats milk into their diet. After being dismissed, the salesman went so far as to return with a goat (I am not making this up), and the Murphy's herd began. Jane discovered a knack and love for cheesemaking, and decided to go commercial. Now, they sell goats milk, hard and soft cheeses, and yogurt to supermarkets and at farmers markets around the country. They milked the herd by hand up until it grew to 60 goats, and then started to use machinery. When the herd breeds to an unmanageable size, Jane donates goats to Bothar (, a charity which sends livestock to villages in Africa. The two children, eczema-free, are now in the cheesemaking business themselves.

Friday's Tips:

- Unprocessed, fresh goat's milk does not contain cholesterol. Goat's cheese, when hand made, does not contain cholesterol either.

- Warm salad (salade tiede) should be served on a hot plate. You're playing with different temperatures (cold greens, hot plate, sizzling goats cheese on warm toasts) and different textures (crispy walnuts, smooth goats cheese, crunchy bread).

- At this time of year, walnuts are at their best.

- It takes over 4,000 crocuses to produce one ounce of saffron.

- With profiteroles, the pastry should be crisp, the filling, cold, and the chocolate sauce, hot.


Thursday, October 22, 2009


"Please be nice to me. I don't want to be like one of those poor, harassed looking tour guides who has a bottle of vodka hidden just to get him through the day" joked Rory yesterday in preparation for today's field trip. He was, indeed, our guide on a day long odyssey from a smokehouse to a farmer's market to a cheese maker to an apple orchard to a specialty foods store and back.

The buses rolled off school grounds at 8 AM heading west to visit Frank Hederman's famous Belvelly Smokehouse near Cobh ( With his traditional homemade smokehouse (the only one of its kind in Ireland), Frank smokes organic salmon (seen above), silver eel, mackerel, mussels, nuts, and oats. He smokes with beechwood rather than oak chips, which gives a more subtle flavor. Why organic salmon (if you even dare to ask!)? Because on a non-organic farm, swimming in every bathtub-sized volume of water, there are 30-35 salmon (compared with only 6-8 on an organic farm). He would use wild salmon rather than organically farmed, but this year's catch has an inferior taste because of all the rain. One bite, and you'll realize what smoked salmon is supposed to taste like!

After a good look in his smokeroom, we packed up the buses and headed for the Mahon Point Farmer's Market in Cork ( Five years ago, Thursday was the painfully slowest day at the Mahon Point shopping center. Since our headmistress's son in law, Rupert Hugh Jones, organized the weekly market in the covered carpark, Thursday is now the highest traffic day by a large percentage. It is an interesting and recent phenomenon that large shopping centers and supermarkets are actually encouraging the growth of parking lot farmer's markets because of the traffic they attract.

If I had a million dollars, I could have spent it all at the market (don't tell the IRS). There was everything from farmhouse cheeses to crusty breads to local produce to fresh fish to free-range meat- complete with, best of all, free samples! To make it even more picturesque, there was a lone guitarist singing the best of Paul, John, Ringo, and George. I know what you are all wondering, and yes, my beloved O'Connaill's Hot Chocolate had a stand!

Though their cocoa is always delicious (I'll try to stop ranting about it), I think my favorite stand was "Supersprout" selling germinated chick peas, lima beans, black eyed peas, etc. One of nature's superfoods, sprouts are low fat, high fiber, nutrient-packed snacks said to contain Ch'i, the Chinese idea for the "energy of life". Try adding these puppies into your diet- they pack a powerful punch.

We moved onward towards the birthplace of Baylough Cheese, handmade by Dick and Anne Keating in Clogheen, County Tipperary. This couple started making cheese more than two decades ago, when they had six children to feed and hardly two pennies to rub together. As a last resort, Anne began making cheese on her kitchen stove with surplus milk. With a little research here and some encouragement there, her cheese started selling and hasn't stopped since! Anne, who has long since upgraded from her kitchen stove to a cheese studio on the property, told this story as she cut the coagulated raw (unpasteurized) cows milk in a giant vat, separating the curds (solids) from the whey (liquid). We all had a chance to taste the cheddar, and it was delicious.

After some tea and refreshments, we hit the bus again to head through the Comeragh Mountains (we passed some of William Drohan's lambs grazing!) to Cappoquin to see where Crinnaghtaun Apple Juice is manufactured ( A family business, David and Julia (and their daughter Jess) showed us their 90 acre orchard and the apple juice making process. Apparently, an apple a day can keep the doctor away. The nutrients in the deep red color are said to be anti-cancerous, and the pectin in the pulp is great for lowering cholesterol. For those concerned with sugar levels, apples are less sweet than other fruits such as grapes and melon.

After a taste of their freshly pressed juice, we pressed on. Our final destination was The Summer House ( in historic Lismore, owned by 1993 Ballymaloe Cookery School graduate Owen Madden. Both an upscale houseware store and a cafe, this place exudes ambiance. I certainly wouldn't mind waiting for a table in this cheerful shop, which sold everything from wine and homemade jam to cookbooks and teapots.

We entered the Cookery School gates as wearily as Odysseus entered Ithaca's harbor. Overall, it was an informative, interesting, and, as always, delicious day!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


We always cross the mid week hump with a theory day. Today focused on the art of butchery, South African wines, tips for freezing your food, and the use of spices. But, as I have learned, we cannot begin a theory day without first making the "biscuit of the week". This week we made chocolate and toffee squares (or "millionaire squares", aptly named because they are so expensive to bake!). To do so, we layered shortcake pastry, homemade toffee, and melted dark chocolate in a baking tray. The toffee is basically sugar, butter and condensed milk that you constantly stir while it boils away in a saucepan. To test if it is ready (i.e. the right firmness: somewhere between gloopy and pull-your-teeth-out hard), plunge a teaspoon of the hot toffee into cold water and wait for it to cool. Like jams and jellies, you are going to eat toffee cold (or at room temperature) so you must test it when it is cold.

There was a surprise visit from sixth generation lamb farmer William Drohan of Comeragh Mountain Lamb ( William's flock enjoys the benefits of grazing on herbs, grasses, and wild flowers across pastures high in the Comeragh Mountains. Reared with care and happy until the end, these animals produce top quality meat. As our headmistress said, it is mavericks like William who are leading the way back to where food should come from. With so many large companies still focused on quantity rather than quality, think about where you spend your money and who you want to support!

Then arrived Philip Dennhardt, master butcher, with a pig carcass halved lengthwise from head to tail. Philip is a fourth generation German butcher, who has worked everywhere from Chez Panisse in Berkeley to Grand Central Market in New York. As the quality of pre-butchered retail meat has decreased, his trade has grown in popularity. More restaurants are buying entire carcasses to hang in cold rooms and butcher in-house. The difference in quality is undeniable.

Pigs are remarkably similar to humans biologically (and mentally, depending on which human we're talking about!). We watched as Philip gracefully glided along the natural seams of the animal, rather than hacking Texas-Chainsaw-esque through muscle fibers (which damages the meat because you lose succulent juices). Within no time, he had separated the leg, the shoulder, the loin (AKA back), and the belly. He then showed us how to cure bacon, coppa, gianciale, and pancetta and how to make sausages and salami. Nothing is wasted (they even boil the head to make "brawn", a terrine of jellied meat). A noble end for a happy pig!

Our culture is changing as quality food becomes more of a priority. As Philip says, "you're not a hero anymore if you work in a bank and drive a sports car". Rather, it is the artisans who make their own compost or cure their own meats or brew their own beer who are really turning heads!

We broke for lunch, and then returned for a quick wine tasting session with Jeanette Bruwer, the owner of Springfield Estate in Robertson, South Africa ( Jeanette and her brother Abrie are fourth generation wine farmers. A family run vineyard, the Springfield Estate grows grapes organically, but does not put "organic" on the label ("we sell wine. We don't sell labels"). We tasted a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and both were excellent. Interestingly enough, due to the opposing Indian Ocean and Antarctica currents, 90 % of all the grapes grown in South Africa are within a 2 hour drive from Cape Town.

Finally, we finished the afternoon with a quick talk from Rory on freezing foods and a final lecture on spices from 2004 Ballymaloe Cookery School graduate, Arun Kapil of Green Saffron ( Green Saffron is a small family business which seeks to provide the highest quality spices to its customers. Arun and his relatives travel to India and meet directly with spice growers to personally bring back small quantities to sell in Ireland, London, or to order. They also make their own spice mixes to sell in packets complete with recipes on how to use them. It is the ultimate "fast food" - just saute some onions, add the spice packet, add some meat, maybe some stock, and you're golden. We taste-tested a few, and they were out of this world.

Today's Tips:

- In Rory's freezer, you will always find stock, puff pastry, frozen fruit, and butter (he told me this, I did NOT go breaking into his house... yet)

- According to Philip, "California is the way forward, food wise"

- It is very important not to stress an animal before it is slaughtered, or you will toughen the meat. This goes for everything from pigs to crabs.

- Season meat the night before you cook it, when possible. The salt will break down the fibers and tenderize the meat. Ina Garten (AKA the Barefoot Contessa) recommends that you should sprinkle meat with salt as soon as you bring it home from the grocery store before storing it in the fridge.

- Salt takes 30 seconds to dissolve into a sauce or soup. Therefore, give the salt time to do so before tasting the soup to judge if it needs more seasoning!

- Try curing your own meat! Anyone can do it, so long as he or she has plenty of salt, a cool and dry area to hang the meat, and some patience.

- With fish, the fresher, the plainer, the better. Sometimes, a sprinkle of olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe some fresh herbs goes a long way.

- There is no right or wrong in wine, so don't be shy about stating what you think! Wines are very personal, and are meant to be enjoyed. If you like it, that's all that matters.

- Bone dry Sauvignon Blanc makes a great aperitif, because the acidity prepares the stomach for food.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thirty One

Before I start with the day's plethora of tips, check out this New York Times article on garlic and its health effects (sent to me by my good friend and amateur foodie, Alex!). After my natural medicine rant a couple posts ago, I thought it too coincidental (and too interesting) not to mention.

Today was a great day in the kitchen, mainly because we were cooking breakfast for lunch (I live for breakfast). I had to make plum and apple jam, ginger and lemon zest muffins, breakfast scones, Ballymaloe muesli, and one serving of "the Fry". I rolled the scones a little too thick, which caused them to bulge and slightly topple like miniature Leaning Towers of Pisa. Its not the end of the world as you know it, but something to keep that in mind when baking at home.

The ginger and lemon zest muffins recipe comes from one of Marion Cunningham's cookbooks (she calls them "Bridge Creek Muffins"). I would not have thought to put grated ginger in a muffin, but the result was truly delicious. I'll definitely make those again. The jam went well, as did the muesli (you can be sure that I added plenty of fat-converting Lecithin!). Below you'll see my jam, muesli (in a yogurt parfait), ginger muffin, and scone all ready for tasting!

By 11:30 AM, the kitchen windows fogged as everyone started his or her individual "Fry". In case you're interested in the order, it works best to fry the sausages, then the bacon, then the black and white pudding, and then the egg, (cleaning the pan in between). You can keep the cooked meat warm in an oven while you tackle the rest. While you're frying, you can roast your tomatoes and mushroom in the oven. If you have 4 frying pans and 4 pairs of hands, you can do this all at once.

After a delicious breakfast for lunch (complete with Mimosas AKA Bucks Fizz made with freshly squeezed orange juice!), we headed off to a surprise wine lecture with visiting winemaker, Jean-Francois Bordet of Domaine Seguinot Bordet wines from Chablis, France. A couple things to reiterate about French wines after his visit. One: Chablis (a region in France and a type of wine) must be made with Chardonnay grapes (according to the French "Appellation Controllee). Two: You can order standard Chablis, or you can order Chablis from the very best grapes (i.e. the older vines, the better altitude, the better sun exposure, etc), which is called Chablis Premier Cru. If you can get your hands on it, there even exists a few Chablis Grand Cru, made from the best of the best grapes. The Appellation Controllee decides which specific areas, hillsides, and individual acres produce the Premier Cru and Grand Cru grapes, so if you are lucky enough to inherit a Grand Cru bit of land, you'll be a Grand Cru winemaker (regardless of your winemaking skills). You can see how this somehow taints the Appellation Controllee distinctions...

After a quick tasting of Jean-Francois's Chablis and Chablis Premiere Cru, we went on to our afternoon demonstration. We learned how to fillet various flat fishes, including Plaice, Sole, Turbot, Brill, and John Dory (or St. Pierre). I found this particularly challenging because each fish seemed to have a different technique for filleting. Hopefully we'll get a better handle on the various methods as the weeks progress. We also learned how to make Choux pastry (used for eclairs, profiteroles, beignets, etc), a Provencale Bean Stew, and Chilli Con Carne.

Some tips on today's lesson:

- Try to avoid serving and drinking white wine when it is ice cold. Chilled white wine is all well and good until you overdo it and dull the flavor. Ditch the ice bucket. (I guess this means I can't add ice cubes to my wine anymore!)

- If you're ever in Paris, get to Angelina's for a cup of their famous hot chocolate. If you're in New York, City Bakery's hot chocolate comes highly recommended (18th and 5th).

- To make coconut rice, simply substitute coconut milk for the water used to cook rice. For a less rich flavor, you can do half coconut milk and half water.

- If you're making eclaires, sprinkle some water on the baking tray before popping them into the oven. The water drops create steam which encourages the eclairs to puff up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day Thirty

Day Thirty (or "day tirty" as they say over here). I was assigned to make an omelette and a tomato salad with a honey vinaigrette. Since this is a rather light load, I opted to take on tomato puree, rum and raisin cake, and the formidable white yeast bread as well. I got in early for the bread, and luckily ran into our headmistress's husband. He is a particularly talented breadmaker, and I was fortunate enough to have him coach me through the early stages. Moral support is often the most important ingredient for a beginner breadmaker! The final result is below (one plait and some rolls). One tip: with white yeast bread, you can always add more water if it is too dry, but it is difficult to knead in flour if it is too wet, so add your water carefully!

I then made tomato puree (basically stewed tomatoes), a dish they make over here in the late summer and freeze for the winter months. It is a way to take advantage of tomatoes when they are in season (and cheapest!) in order to have delicious tomato flavor all year round. Imagine the flavor of a ripe August tomato on Christmas Eve! That's what tomato puree is meant to achieve.

The rum and raisin cake went off rather seamlessly. With any fruit cake, make sure to not open the oven while it is cooking, or the fruit will sink to the bottom. Finally, there was the French omelette. We used two eggs and cooked them in a very hot pan greased with clarified butter. To clarify butter, put a Pyrex jug filled with butter into the oven. The white 'solids' will sink to the bottom and the clear, clarified butter will rise to the top. I made three omelettes (picture below...) and all were "too light" - i.e. the pan, though smoking when I added the butter, was apparently not hot enough. This gives you an idea of just how hot and how quickly these are supposed to cook.

After lunch, we assembled for the afternoon demonstration which began with a presentation by Local Producers of the Week, pig farmers Noreen and Martin Conroy. On a 30 acre farm, these local heroes raise pigs that are moved from green to greener pastures every three months. This method of rotating the pens keeps the pigs well fed and happy (and not requiring antibiotics!). Noreen and Martin have virtually cut out the infamous "middle man" and do all the rearing, breeding and butchering themselves save the help of a local abattoir (AKA slaughterhouse). Luckily for the Conroy's, the abattoir is incredibly humane and keeps the pigs relaxed and rested until the end (happy pigs produce better meat). I hope I got all this information right because, as it turns out, Martin is a reader of this blog!

They were a great introduction to the subject of our class: the Irish breakfast. In the words of our headmistress, "breakfast can be absolutely divine or totally mundane and pedestrian". Its potential for greatness lies in the little details. And those details kept us scribbling notes until 6 o'clock. We learned how to make breakfast scones, various types of muesli, homemade granola, different types of porridge, baked, poached or fried eggs, jams, muffins, pancakes, waffles, and the legendary "Fry". An Irish tradition, when you order "The Fry" you can expect to receive one fried egg, 2 fried sausages, "rashers" (AKA bacon), fried black and white pudding (don't even ask what is in it!), a fried tomato, and a fried mushroom. An "Ulster Fry" includes fried potato bread (or "fadge"). A Irish Country House Breakfast is a Fry plus fried lambs kidney. So, if you want to make breakfast the most important meal of your life (i.e. the one that kills you), order a Fry.

The daily tips:

- "Freshly squeezed orange juice doesn't come out of a jug, it comes out of an orange" -Darina Allen

- Muffins made at home rarely look as beautiful as the ones you buy, but they always taste better. My mother always said you cannot eat atmosphere. Well, you cannot eat appearance either.

- Check out any books by Marion Cunningham (the Fanny Farmer Junior Cookbook was my first cookbook!)

- When buying citrus fruit, it should feel heavy. Light oranges, for example, tend to have more pith (the bitter white membrane) than heavy oranges.

- Try eating foods with a low GI for breakfast. The GI (glycemic index) measures the rate that carbohydrates digest and release sugar into your bloodstream. The higher the GI, the faster the carb digestion, the sharper and more sudden the rise in blood sugar levels. This means a burst of energy and then a crash. The lower the GI, the slower the sugar release, and the more prolonged, steady energy. Oatmeal has a very low GI. Corn flakes have a very high GI.

- Agave nectar has the lowest GI index of any sweetener. Try it instead of Splenda (my worst nightmare!), sugar, or my beloved honey.

- Organic is always free range, but free range is not always organic.

- Scramble eggs by pouring the whisked eggs into a cold saucepan, and then turning on the heat. Do not pour them into a sizzling saucepan. Cook them slowly, stirring constantly with a spatula. You'll hardly need to wash the pan when they're cooked!

- Don't over mix pancake batter or they will be tough. Lumps of flour are ok.

- Try adding Lecithin to your diet. Derived from the soya bean, Lecithin helps your body convert fat into energy rather than storing it in your thighs!


Sunday, bloody Sunday. Not much to report here. After feeling like I was coming down with a cold, and much to the shock and horror of my traveling companions, I swallowed a clove of garlic to give my immune system a bit of a boost. I learned this trick from my favorite natural medicine lover back in the states. He's been known to eat anything from echinacea pellets to fish oil pills to ward off a cold. A green tea and gogi berry guzzler, he would rub homeopathic Traumeel (comprised of 12 botanical and 2 mineral substances) on bruised and battered limbs after lacrosse games rather than popping some Advil. Needless to say, his garlic trick worked. I might not have been kissable for the better part of Sunday afternoon, but I felt great Monday morning.

Natural medicines are a fascinating field. One of the Ballymaloe House chefs is married to a natural herbalist, and he hasn't had a pharmaceutical drug in nine years! I am currently trying to set up a night class with her at the school for any interested students. I will be sure to write about it if and when it happens!

Twenty Eight

Saturday morning I found myself waking up in Roscommon Town in Northwest Ireland. Neither kidnapped nor teleported, I had driven up the night before with two other students to stay for the weekend. Our four hour trip involved a few wrong turns, a lot of countryside viewing, and a briefer than brief stop at the Rock of Cashel. It is big, beautiful, and packed with history. That's about all I can tell you about this landmark. But, I have the picture to prove I was there (I'm the minuscule tourist in the foreground)!

We decided on the roadtrip that we would climb Croagh Patrick Saturday morning, a mountain south of Westport on the northwest coast. Against all odds (and by odds I mean pints of Guinness), we actually got out of bed to do it! After a ninety minute ride, my heart stopped when I saw what we had signed up for. Rising 2,500 feet above sea level, this steep cliff is not for the faint of heart (the picture doesn't do it justice).

Pilgrims flock from around the world to ascend the summit in honor of Ireland's own St. Patrick, who fasted on the slope for 40 days and 40 nights in the fifth century AD. Some particularly penitent pilgrims climb barefoot or even on their knees! I saw one such character on my way down, and have to admit I felt a little wimpy for not trying this myself (maybe next time!). The guidebooks reckon it takes about 2 hours to reach the top, but we made it in an hour and ten (it's all that organic Ballymaloe energy!).

It was a great experience, and I will definitely try to work it in if I am lucky enough to make it back to Ireland later in life. Funnily enough, after a conversation with my Mom Sunday evening, I discovered that I had been there before! When my family came to stay at the Ballymaloe House in 1988, we were finishing a week long trip which began with a pilgrimage to Knock and Croagh Patrick. My parents, their five children (six if you include the baby in my mother's womb!), and one very devoted babysitter made it halfway up (the summit is too treacherous for kids). Come to think about it, I thought it looked familiar...

Shaky legged and parched, we made it back to the car park. A bowl of tomato and basil soup in Westport (winner of the 2001, 2006, and 2008 "Tidiest Town" award) hit the spot. We rounded out the afternoon at a Gaelic football match, a traditional Irish sport that lies somewhere between soccer and rugby. My host's two younger brothers were playing for the Roscommon team. As it goes, they won.