Monday morning, week nine! Wow, the days are flying by. I headed off to school with my cheese (he is growing a little blue mold on his rind- in the life of a cheese, it's like hair on his chest), my sourdough starter, my sourdough dough (shivering from the long night in our cold kitchen), and my recipes for the day. I set out to make lemon verbena ice cream, a plum tart, scones, and a warm salad with a poached egg on top. The scones went off without a hitch. The main trick is to not over-handle them. They should be barely mixed, so that the dough just comes together. If you're in doubt (a Doubting Thomas, if you will), experiment and exaggerate the barely-mixing-trick. They'll be as light as ever!
I lined the plum tart's base with shortcrust pastry, and then used flaky pastry for the lid. The school has found that flaky pastry can get quite soggy if you try to use it as a base, which explains the shortcrust pastry. We bake this type of tart on a Pyrex plate rather than a pie dish. If you have an enamel plate at home, that would work better. The Pyrex might block the heat from fully cooking the shortcrust pastry base.
As for the salad: again, with any warm salad, you should serve cold greens on a hot plate with warm toppings. Today, the warm toppings were crispy bacon lardons and a poached egg. Other days, you could do walnuts and goat cheese croquettes, or sliced roast chicken and croutons, etc. It's a great way to use up left-over meats or fish from the night before.
Also, I poached my first farm fresh egg, and was completely amazed at the difference. There was zero white left in the water! (If you don't exactly keep a couple of egg-laying hens in your city apartment, try the poaching trick mentioned on Day 55. Put the store bought egg, shell on, in the boiling water for 30 seconds. This barely sets the white. Then crack it in as usual!)
For lunch, I had the pleasure of seeing two old family friends (and one newborn!) who drove down for the day! We chatted over fresh green salad from the greenhouse, poached salmon with hollandaise, melted leeks, mashed potatoes, green peas with mint, and warm apple tart with cinnamon ice cream for dessert!
During our afternoon demonstration, our headmistress made "rillettes" of salmon (basically a coarse, shredded salmon pate), Boeuf Bourguignon, Italian Beef Stew, Beef and Oxtail Stew (that's right... oxtail!), polenta, celeriac and apple puree, parsnip and potato champ, brussel sprouts, and roasted root vegetables. For dessert, she made passion fruit mousse with sugared strawberries, yogurt and cardamom cream with pomegranate seeds, and various chocolate petit fours. Finally, she started on the infamous puff pastry! My arteries shuddered as she defied the laws of Newtonian physics and crammed an entire pound of butter into the dough (beating it senselessly with a rolling pin). It was truly, truly impressive. A little scary. But impressive.
- It's the moment you've all been waiting for: Brussel sprouts are now in season! Love them or hate them, they are incredibly good for you (a good source of anti-cancerous glucosinolates, vitamin C, and folic acid).
- When you're browning meat, take your time and don't overcrowd the pan. Do it in batches, or else they'll sweat rather than brown.
- Dried orange rind is delicious in beef stew. It doesn't make it taste like orange, it just heightens the flavor. Peel some rind off an orange, string it up with a needle and thread (seriously), and jar it when dry! You'll look like an old French housewife (this is a good thing).
- If you want to put mushrooms into your stew, wait until the last half hour of cooking to add them. Otherwise, they get bitter over the hours of stewing in the oven.
- As Myrtle Allen says, in the days before penicillin, food was our medicine. Healthy, nutritious meals meant healthy, nutritious families. The whole point of food is for nourishment!
- When you're buying Passion fruit, look for the wrinkled ones. Smooth ones tend to be bitter. Also, they go really well with mangoes.
- If you do the math, after all the folding and rolling required with puff pastry, there will be over 700 layers built up! Exponential goodness.
- In the summer at the Ballymaloe House, they make their puff pastry in the walk in freezer. At home, try everything you can to keep it cold. Start with chilled flour, refrigerate your rolling pin (and marble slab if you have one), and work quickly.
- When making polenta, choose a high-sided saucepan, because it "spits like a volcano" (-Darina) when heated.
- Today, we made chocolate "cases", or cups, by spreading melted chocolate on the inside of petit four wrappers, chilling them, and then peeling off the paper. These are great little receptacles to fill with after dinner liquor (a drink and a chocolate all in one!), or whipped cream and dusted cocoa, or raspberries with chocolate sauce... the possibilities are endless. You can even serve them filled with a teaspoon of milk and a cup of coffee- the coffee drinker can plop the whole thing right into the mug!
- If you have high cholesterol, drink pomegranate juice (make sure its actually pomegranate juice and not flavored sugar-water).
- Make yeast breads the night before and allow them to rise overnight in the fridge. They'll develop a much more interesting flavor.