Friday arrived in full glory. It is hard to believe that I've completed four weeks! Tempus fugit. The strawberries and sugar which I let sit overnight were ready to boil into jam. Since strawberries are extremely low in pectin (the "stuff" which makes jams set), we let the fruit marinate in sugar overnight, which somehow seems to help the setting process. You also need to add something that is traditionally high in pectin to help the jam set, such as lemon juice or redcurrant juice (or maybe even apple juice? raspberry juice? its worth experimenting!). You will not taste the bit of juice, and it will really help raise the "pectin index" in the jam.
I also made watercress soup. Watercress is a green that grows all over Ireland in great batches at the edges of streams. It is easy to forage and delicious to eat. I prepared the base of the soup in the morning (sauteed onions, chicken stock, etc) but did not add the watercress until just before lunch to preserve the bright green color. The watercress only takes a minute to cook and then you wiz the soup in a blender until smooth. If you want to do these final steps ahead of time (say, for instance, before guests arrive), there are a couple of ways to keep the color. One: do not cover the soup. This traps the steam, which ruins the vibrant greens. Two: try to cool the soup down as much as possible after pureeing it. The hotter the soup is when it sits, the more the color will drain from it. Cool it down by pouring the soup back and forth in between two bowls a couple of times. Reheat it just before serving.
Finally, I made some pastry and an apple pie. The Irish version of our American classic calls for only apples and sugar in the filling. I restrained myself from adding cinnamon and lemon juice and all the other American additions, but I'll be hard pressed to hold off on these spices come Christmastime back in Massachusetts! One tip: apples tend to break down during cooking, so make sure to fill your shell with plenty of chopped apples. Otherwise you might end up with a sunken, concave, sad little pie.
Our afternoon demonstration focused on the art of the omelette. With a hot pan and some technique, you can churn one of those babies out in 30 seconds. Our teacher made it look easy, but I'll see how "easy" it is Monday morning. From what I could tell from my chair, you should start with a spotlessly clean pan to keep the omelette from sticking. Don't scrimp on the butter either...
We also learned how to make mushroom or wild mushroom soup, marzipan (an almond paste), and caramelized walnuts. When working with mushrooms, do not clean them with water lest they soak up the moisture (which will dilute the flavor). Instead, wipe them with a dry cloth. For the caramelized walnuts, if you're making your own caramel (basically by boiling sugar until it reaches a caramel color), remember that it will continue to cook significantly after you turn off the heat. You need to work quickly with the caramel or it will get too dark and develop a bitter, burned taste. And so ends week four.