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!

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