Phew! After an actioned packed day (by Ballymaloe standards), I can finally sit back, relax, ...and relive my action packed day. So here goes. It began with an early AM arousal for herb duty with my new best friend, the head gardener. He handed me a rather large knife and we hacked away at fennel, dill, marjoram, parsley, chervil, thyme, and sweet geranium for the better part of an hour. Once we had cut enough herbs for all of Christendom, I headed to my kitchen to prepare for the days work. I blinked, and it was 12:30. In a whirl-wind of sweating onions and picking crabs and waiting for dough to rise, I somehow wound up with a loaf of brown yeast bread, a shepherd's pie, crab mayonnaise, and green beans. I undercooked the beans (apparently "there is a fine line between al dente and undercooked"). The shepherd's pie was delicious, if I do say so myself. And my brown yeast bread could have been lighter. I'll try that one again tomorrow.
Rory, our favorite lecturer, was at the helm again for the afternoon demonstration. We had a "Mexican" themed day, learning how to cook our own tortillas (both wheat and the traditional maize), various quesadillas, guacamole, and homemade salsa, followed by some traditional sorbets, crunchy orange butter scones ("hot out of the oven, they will cause a sensation"), and apple jelly. If your library is thirsting for some Mexican cookbooks, anything by Rick Bayless or Diana Kennedy will serve you well.
After the demo, I had time for a quick shower before rushing off to the Ballymaloe House to observe the kitchen during dinner service. All I can say is that I have a long way to go before I can churn out food that is as delicious as theirs. We glaze carrots, but they really glaze the hell out of carrots. We mash potatoes, but they Mash Potatoes. It's like night and day, really. I don't get it. Part of their secret is the quality of their ingredients (you should try their olive oil), but a lot of it is just impeccable seasoning. Tasting (and re-tasting) food before you serve it is a hugely important step.
Your daily dose of tips:
- When making quesadillas, do not overdo the ingredients so that it becomes a "fat American sandwich". (His exact words. I am still trying to figure out if he meant for the adjective "fat" to describe "American" or "sandwich"? Maybe both?) Quesadillas should be light - there is an art to the proportion of the ingredients.
- Think ahead with avocados. Some take time to ripen. Press your thumb against the skin - if it holds your thumbprint, it's ripe (similar to testing a mango).
- When making guacamole in advance, there are two tricks to keep the mixture from going brown. Trick number one: save the stone as you prepare the avocado. The stone mysteriously delays the oxidization process as long as it is in contact with the avocado. Put it into the bowl with the prepared guac, which leads me to... Trick number two: place cling wrap directly onto the surface of the guac, making an airtight seal around the bowl. Now you're set to refrigerate the dip.
- Rethink the bean. They are an "almost perfect food" - lots of protein and fibre and zero fat or cholesterol. As an added bonus, they are inexpensive. If you think they are dull, you're not adding enough spice to their life. Be creative! Your waistline will thank you.
- Turmeric can be used as a natural antiseptic (chefs sometimes rub it on burns in the kitchen).
- Looking to improve your kitchen library? Check out anything by Roger Verge, master french chef.
- If you are an ice cream or sorbet eater (admit it!), think about investing in an ice cream machine. The ingredients for homemade ice creams and sorbets are inexpensive, the machine does all the work, and it will pay for itself in no time. Homemade ice cream is so delicious. Then again, it might be detrimental to your figure...
- Every kitchen should have at least one rubber spatula (this type)
- When making stock, the pot should simmer but never boil. Boiling will cause the fat to emulsify in the liquid, making it cloudy. You want the flavor of the fat, not the actual fat, in your stock. You should skim the actual fat off the top of the pot and discard.
- Try adding carrageen (a type of seaweed) into your diet - it is good for digestion and the lining your stomach
- Fennel seeds are also good for digestion - try pouring some boiling water into a mug with some fennel seeds after a painfully large meal!