Thursday, November 26, 2009


HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Unfortunately, this island does not celebrate our time-honored tradition of eating oneself into a food coma. But, you can bet that yours truly was "giving thanks" all day long, albeit without turkey and stuffing. I got in to make white soda bread (to which I added sugar and chocolate chunks... you only live once!), and french fries, peperonata (stewed peppers) and tapenade (olive paste) to go with my seared tuna steaks. I also got started on brioche dough, which has to sit overnight in the fridge.

The morning was a breeze, with plenty of time for tea and chocolate soda bread breaks! We coasted into the afternoon demonstration, where our headmistress walked us through French onion soup, classic fish & chips ("with the volume turned up", as Barefoot says), scampi (traditionally made with lobster, although we used prawns), "mushy peas" (a British dish served with fish and chips- basically pureed peas), more squid dishes, tangerine mousse, white chocolate mousse, and chocolate mousse.

When making French onion soup, don't add the stock, in the words of William Prescott, until you see the whites of their eyes. To put it slightly less dorkily, hold your nerve with the onions. You want them to get really, Really, Really dark in the pan before adding the stock to make the soup. You'll get the best results if you simmer the onion slices on a very low heat for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. This is a nice alternative to the quicker higher heat option, where you have to babysit the pan lest the onions burn.

After our demonstration, we had our final wine lecture before our wine exam next week. We went over Champagne (while enjoying a glass!), and then looked at the up and coming Canadian wine regions. One of our fellow students is from British Columbia, and has a particular connection to that region's very own Mission Hill Winery. We tasted a Mission Hill Syrah, a Pinot Gris, and their famous Icewine.

Icewine is made by harvesting the grapes after the first frost. You are supposed to pick the grapes before 10 AM, because the temperature cannot go over -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the whole process. The grapes must be pressed when frozen, so that the alcohol, which thaws faster than water, comes out in a concentrated liquid, leaving the icy water shards behind. This entirely natural process (they don't use refrigeration) takes three times the amount of grapes used to make normal wine, so icewine is generally quite expensive. Mission Hill won the "Best Icewine in the World" award last fall (not too shabby!). As far as sweet wines go, it was absolutely delicious. If you feel like treating yourself (and paying for it!), try ordering an icewine!

After class, we went out to a delicious Thanksgiving (and birthday!) dinner at the FarmGate in Midleton. I had tagliatelli with poached salmon, paired with a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from the Rueda region in Spain (I think).

Thanksgiving Tips:

- Valrhona and Callebaut are excellent brands of chocolate.

- We get caviar from the roe of Sturgeons, a type of fish.

- Scale a fish near the sink, or on a piece of newspaper. It's a messy job. Use the blunt side of your knife to scrape them off.

- There are lots of different ways to "bread" a fillet, aside from the standard breadcrumbs. Try Japanese Panko crumbs or even couscous. With the latter, you'll need to get it slightly hydrated before using, so cook the couscous halfway (until it has absorbed 1/2 the water). Drain, and it's ready to coat your fillet!

- My sister Frances, currently living in Sydney, recently made mashed sweet potatoes with orange juice and ginger. It sounds delicious! Give it a whirl.

1 comment:

  1. Binny:

    Hope you had a happy birthday on Thanksgiving Day. You have given us much for which to be thankful. You will be glad to know that none of us ate his way into a food coma; further, each re-authenticated his membership in the "Clean Plate Club". Perhaps our collective Irish blood carries in its DNA a memory of the terrible famines in Ireland in the mid 19th century that inclines us away from gluttony and waste.

    On this point, if you or your colleagues wish to read a portrait of Ireland that is the antithesis of the life you have been enjoying at Ballymaloe House, read Cecil Woodham-Smith's history of the Irish famine entitled "The Great Hunger". I have a copy. How paradoxical that a century and a half after my ancestors were driven from a country whose name was synonymous with destitution and want, you should be back in that very land experiencing such home-grown bounty.


    Dad (a/k/a Jack Handy)