Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Wednesday: the mid-week hump. The cookery school tackles this milestone with a theory day each week. Today's topics included the "cheese of the week" (washed rind cheese), the "biscuit of the week" (the chocolate chip cookie - they call cookies "biscuits" over here), the "local producer of the week" (Mary Burns from Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese), and lessons in Vegetarian cooking. We also went over how to make flavored oils and vinegars, how to plan a menu (for a dinner party or a restaurant), and how to get a job! Our headmistress is determined that we all graduate in December gainfully employed. We rounded out the day with an evening foraging class. Many of the big restaurants in the States (Chez Panisse, French Laundry, etc.) employ full time foragers to bring in fresh and eccentric ingredients. A hobby can turn into a lucrative trade!

The cheese of the week, the Ardrahan washed rind cheese, is made with pasteurized milk because it is illegal to sell cheese made with raw milk in Ireland. One of my readers (Mrs. Rubeor!) sent this interesting article (,0,1514356.story) from the Baltimore Sun about a pilot program in Maryland experimenting with raw cheese production. It is exciting that people (and regulators!) are starting to get over the raw milk paranoia. The French refuse to buy cheese produced with anything but raw milk (pasteurization ruins the bacteria that give the cheese its personality). The French are getting along just fine consuming raw milk cheeses- I think we would too! Check out your local area for rogue raw milk cheese producers.

After a full day of theory, the tips are flooding in!

- Store your baking soda and baking powder in airtight containers, lest they lose their potency.

- Keep your spice rack out of direct sunlight.

- When buying ginger, the skin should be smooth ("not old and wrinkly like myself!" - Darina Allen)

- Buying spices whole and grinding them yourself results in a much more intense flavor than buying pre-ground spices. The whole room smells of cumin when you grind it yourself!

- When cooking with beans, if you forget to soak them overnight and you are in a time crunch, there is a "cheat's method". Cover them in cold water in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Let them simmer for 3-4 minutes, drain them, and cover with fresh cold water. This method does not result in as great a product as overnight soaking, but it can get you out of a bind!

- When you steam spinach, there is inevitably "spinach water" that collects in the bottom of the pan. Drink it if you want a juice that is packed with iron (pregnant women especially!).

- Buy your olives with the stone in them. The pre-stoned olives are always a lower quality.

- If you are at a restaurant and you try something really great, put on a big smile, tell the waiter how wonderful it is, and ask for the recipe. 50% of the time they'll say no, but it is worth a shot!

- Most truffle oil is synthetic (made with "truffle essence")

- It takes ten times more energy to produce one unit of animal protein than one unit of vegetable protein. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), chick peas, and tofu are all excellent sources of vegetable protein.

- Straight from today's lesson plan: "Most of the so called diseases of civilization eg. heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity seem to be linked with and perhaps to the conventional western diet which is high in animal fats, sugar and salt and usually low in fibre."

- Tofu isn't as scary as it sounds. It is the pressed curds of coagulated soy milk, a product of the protein-rich soyabean. It has very little flavor, so use it as a blank canvas on which to paint any flavors under the sun!

- When making an Asian stir fry, start with the "trinity of garlic, ginger, and spring onions"

- If you want to buy a wok, do not wok (wow that's terrible) into a fancy cookware store and spend a fortune. Buy the type the Chinese use themselves (they are likely to be much less expensive)! If you are in New York or Boston, check out a supermarket in Chinatown. Also, don't use detergent when washing them.

- Coriander, or cilantro, is the most widely used herb in the world. Though some cannot stand it, it is a taste one could acquire (with perseverance!). Those who refuse to eat this flavor close the doors on so many international cuisines in which cilantro is an essential ingredient. Keep trying to like it! (easy for me to say, I know...)

- Check out any cookbook by the head chef of Petersham Nurseries in London, Skye Gyngell. Better yet, check out Petersham Nurseries!

- Try making crepe-like pancakes with soda water (or beer for that matter!) instead of tap water. Also, add a little melted butter to the batter so you do not have to keep greasing the pan.

- One pound of uncooked spinach will shrink down to one serving when cooked.

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