Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 74!

I almost slept through the wine exam. I had one of those O crap! moments when I rolled over and saw that it was 7:45 AM. Ten minutes later, sleepy students (luckily, myself being one of them) filed into our demonstration room, which had been converted into an LSAT-esque sterile testing environment. No jackets, no bags, just chef whites and an archipelago of desks. 100 multiple choice questions later, and I was swimming in a sea of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Bodegas. And by swimming I mean doing the doggy paddle - let's hope I stayed afloat.

Disaster exam or no disaster exam, it was hard not to perk up for the morning's demonstration. During the night, it was as if a Christmas elf had thrown up all over the school, leaving copious amounts of holly, berries, and miniature Santas hither thither. We watched our headmistress, clad in "Merry Christmas" tinsel earrings, prepare a traditional Irish Christmas dinner, complete with roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mince pies with whisky cream, plum pudding, a sherry trifle, a chocolate yule log, and mulled wine.

For those of you who share my cluelessness about Irish Christmas traditions, here are some definitions:

- Mince Pies are little pastries filled with "Mincemeat", a deceptively named sweet filling that contains no meat whatsoever, let alone meat that has been minced (I guess in the days of yore, it used to?). It is a gooey, sweet crumble made by mixing dried fruit, some form of fat (butter, suet, etc), sugar, and alcohol together. You can eat it plain or put it in tarts, short breads, etc.

- Plum Pudding is also deceptively named. There are no plums in it (again, I think there used to be), and it is not a smooth custard like "pudding" as Americans know it. Rather, like mincemeat, it is a mixture of dried fruits, fat, sugar, and alcohol that is steamed for several hours in a bowl and eventually turned out into a rounded dome. It apparently keeps for ages (one student said her relative makes Plum Pudding now to serve for next Christmas).

- Mulled wine is wine that has been warmed in a pot with spices and sugar. It is sort of like a marriage between Sangria and one of my fall favorites, Hot Cider & Bourbon.

After enjoying the spoils of the morning's demonstration for lunch, we headed into a quick filo pastry demonstration. We made fish wrapped in filo parcels, spanakopita (a spinach, feta, and filo dish), samosas (filo pockets stuffed with filling), and different filo desserts. The sky is the limit with filo pastry. Find a brand you like, defrost it overnight in the fridge, and keep the stack from drying out while you work with each layer (use a moist tea towel).

To finish our day, we took a school field trip down the road to the Ballymaloe House. We got a tour of the wine cellar, the kitchen, some of the rooms, and the dining area to give us an idea of how much goes into running a Country House Hotel. They served us tea, cucumber sandwiches, and coffee cake while we listened to the inspirational Myrtle Allen ("80-something going on 18"), the matron of the house, tell us how she did it.

Wednesday's Tips:

- This is probably too late to say, but order your turkeys ahead of time! The good ones get gobbled up quickly.

- Filo is a great way to dress up last night's leftovers. You can make pockets of meat, vegetables, sauces, etc.

- If you're so inclined to make mincemeat, you must serve it hot. Otherwise, the fat used to bind the dried fruits (butter, suet, etc) solidifies into an unpleasant mound. You want it melting.

- An apple corer is a surprisingly handy gadget in the kitchen. They're not too expensive, and when you need one, you need one.

- When trussing a turkey (information that could have been useful to you last week), don't tie it too tightly. The string is not a corset, and the turkey is not Scarlett O'Hara. You want the legs tucked close to the body, to ensure an even cook. But you don't want them so tight that no heat gets around them. The same goes for chicken, goose, pheasant, etc.

- A wooden box of Vacherin Mont d'Or (made in the Vallee de Joux in Switzerland, a lusciously oozing cheese) makes a great Christmas present for a foodie friend!

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