Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cheese making:

So Monday morning I was raring to get back into the kitchen and get cooking. It’s funny because over the weekend I find that I start to miss the buzz of the kitchen. I can’t wait until 8.30am Monday morning. I wash my hands, before doing ANYTHING, (this is drummed in to us), sharpen my knives and get cracking with the dishes which have been demonstrated to us the previous weekday. I collect my ingredients, weigh flour, sugar and butter, juice and zest some lemons or whatever the dishes I am cooking may need. Cooking stops at 11.30am and the three and half hours fly. I usually feel wrecked after the morning’s session but there is always a little bit of me that wants to head back in to the kitchen after lunch and crack on with some more dishes, you might call it an addiction!!

My Greek Mousakka: No easy way to make this dish look attractive

My Fluffy Lemon Pudding.....Nom Nom!!!
Butchery is something I find very interesting. This week chicken was on the menu. In Monday’s demo Darina showed us how to joint a chicken. Of course it was something we were going to have to replicate the following morning in the kitchen. With practise I’m sure it will become second nature to me but is certainly something I will need to practise, making sure not to waste any of the chicken is key! Interesting to know is that when washing a chopping board after cutting raw chicken you should initially run cold water over the board and scrub. If you begin washing with warm or hot water there is an enzyme in raw chicken which reacts with the heat and therefore breeds bacteria thus food poisoning.


Darina's work not mine!!

On Wednesday, our theory day, Darina showed us a very large cut of beef on the bone. On a diagram she showed us where various cuts of beef come from and also the best way to cook the cut. For example the shin and cheek is usually slow cooked. How do you like your roast beef cooked? For every 1lb the meat should spend 6 minutes in the oven if you like it rare, 8-10 for medium and 10-12-14 if you like it well done. Another way to tell how cooked the meat is, is to look at the juices coming from the meat. If they are clear then it’s well cooked and the less clear they are the less well done it is. You should also leave your meat to rest after removing from the oven for as long as it was in the oven.

The information that we learn on a daily basis is massive, 12-16 recipes pretty much every day. Some of the info that I write in my blog is only the tip of the iceberg and if I were to write every interesting tip or fact I would be here all year. An interesting thing that I learned this week is that when cooking green veg you boil your water first, add salt and then add veg but under no circumstances do you put a lid on the saucepan. Putting a lid on the saucepan will cause the colour from the veg to go lighter and lighter. If we were to do this down here we would be killed.

Homemade Scone's
Wednesday afternoon consisted of a lecture from Darina on JOB!!. She is adamant that we will all have jobs for us by the time we finish. On a weekly basis she reads out jobs which employers send her in search of a new student. The first job she read out was for a chef required for a large private estate in the south of France cooking for a family and also cooking for them on their private yacht. Sounds fantastic!! She also told us what previous students went on to do after the course. This talk alone from Darina really made me feel like I am doing the right thing and I am on the main road to doing well in this industry. She has a tremendous skill to be able to fill us all with the confidence that once we complete this course then the world will literally be our oyster ,excuse the food pun ; ) . Past students have gone on to be very successful in areas such as food styling, food writing and food artisan to name just a few! I wonder what I will do?????????????????

 Normally on a Thursday evening, at home in Dublin, I would find myself heading to the gym or going to the cinema with the lads. However, life in Ballymaloe is slightly different. This evening I found myself down in the ever so small Ballymaloe dairy (right beside where the cows get milked) making cheese. Myself and five other students volunteered or rather jumped at the opportunity to make cheese with Tim Allen. The milk which had been taken from the cows this morning was the base for our cheese, add some rennet, leave it to set and then break it up with a large instrument, the name of which I do not know but it looks like a giant sieve. This giant sieve breaks up the curds to a smaller size and then the whey is drained from the vat leaving only the curds behind. I never realised but it is so easy to make your own cheese and, very satisfying too!! The curds are then put into a mould, usually circular in shape, and then you put a weight on top to help draw out the last of the whey. After all this is when the real work starts. The cheese has to be turned on several occasions to alter the weight and to continue to remove any whey. We filled our moulds at 6.40pm, the cheese has to be turned at 7.15pm, 8.15pm and 10.15pm. Tomorrow the cheese then has to be turned before breakfast, then before lunch and finally before dinner. Thereafter the cheese will have to be turned once a day over the weekend. In four month’s time or however long I like to leave it, I then will have my very own wheel of homemade cheese.

The Giant Curd

Tim and the giant sieve

Breaking down the curd to smaller curds

Breaking down the curd further with our washed hands

My wheel of cheese

Tim trying to steal my wheel of cheese.....Hands Off Timmy!!

Tomorrow morning I am on salad duty which requires an early start. Down to the kitchen for 8.00am so no rest for the wicked! After demo tomorrow evening it will be time to salt the cheese (in-between it will have be turned several times) and then it’s in to the car and back up to Dublin for the weekend. Have a good weekend everyone, happy eating…………………….with relish of course!!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Fresh fish anyone?

So the second week has come and gone and I really can’t believe how quickly the weeks fly by down here.  Every week new techniques are introduced to us. Last week we focused on short crust pastry and making the perfect loaf of bread. The pastry is difficult because it takes a delicate hand to get it right. If you work it too much it becomes tough, if you add too much liquid it won’t cook correctly and so on. Likewise with a loaf of bread precision of the correct amount of ingredients is a key. You don’t want it to be too wet otherwise it will be heavy and soggy, not very appetising!!

This week we learned how to fillet a round fish and prepare a leg or shoulder of lamb to roast. In the demo on Tuesday Rachel showed us how to fillet a whole fresh cod. She did it with such ease, I suppose she has had a lot of practise but nevertheless she still made it look so easy.  Thursday came and I was cooking the main course of fresh cod with buttered crumbs, mornay sauce and piped potatoes. Sounds great but tastes even better. Anyway arrive into the kitchen Thursday morning to a massive box of fresh whole cod, they had only been caught that morning. From sea to table in under 6 hours, now that’s fresh fish! Some of the cod were still stiff, this is a way of telling how fresh a fish is because the fish still has rigamortis. I picked the largest one I could find and proudly walked to my section as if I had just caught it myself (thanks Ballycotton day boat fisherman!) Our teacher gave us a brief demo on how to fillet the cod. I was itching to get started. I got my filleting knife out, slapped fishy down on the chopping board and got to work. First you cut in behind the front fins and work the knife in around the head, snap the head off and remove gills from mouth. The gills are very flavoursome and is therefore put straight into the stock pot. Sounds disgusting but I reiterate that nothing goes to waste. Then came the job of running the knife down either side of the back bone, being careful not to cut through the pins bones. This is a delicate operation because if you catch the pin bones it means you then have to physically pick each one out, not a fun task but thankfully I did not make this mistake. I then removed the skin from the fillet by running the knife as close to the skin as possible making sure not to waste any of the fantastically fresh fillet of fish. Surprisingly it was easier than I anticipated. Previously I would have bought pre filleted fish but now I know how to remove the fillets I will buy the full fish and fillet it myself. Important to know that buying a whole fish is cheaper by the kilo than just buying the fillet. If you learn how to fillet a fish you can help save money so for all the fish lovers out there you will know that a fillet of cod is not cheap.

The result: Fresh cod with buttered crumbs, mornay sauce and piped potatoes

On that note I would like to point out that working with extremely sharp knives is actually a lot safer than working with blunt knives. Like a man and his dog,  a good knife and a chef go hand in hand.  If you enjoy cooking and don’t have a set of good knives then I would highly recommend investing in a set. They don’t have to be expensive knives. To start you would really survive with 3. A chef’s knife (the big one), a filleting knife and also a paring knife, a  steel to keep them all sharp is also worth the money. Trust me if you get yourself a small set of good knives your cooking experience will be a hell of a lot more enjoyable and will also make things a lot easier for yourself.

From Top: Steel, chef's knife, filleting knife & pairing knife

Every Wednesday is our theory day. The chef’s whites and knives get a day off and we get to learn something restaurant or foodie related. Last week it was fire safety in a kitchen and health and safety, two very important subjects which we will be examined on in our final week. 

This week it was cheese and wine. Like peas in a pod wine and cheese are best mates. The morning lecture consisted of a talk from Eddie O’Neill from the Artisan food specialist in Ireland. He taught me that from milk, one single product, you can produce an array of outstanding products such as cheese, buttermilk, cream and yoghurt. Milk as a raw ingredient, that Ireland produces so much of, is so valuable to the Irish market. We take it for granted by just opening the fridge and pouring some milk on our cereal in the morning but as strange as it may sound I have a new appreciation for milk.

 After a lunch of carrot and mint soup, some bean stews and fruity deserts we sat down to our wine lecture. It’s something which I have not a clue about other than it comes in a few forms, red, white, pink and bubbles. Colm McCann the sommelier, or smellier as I thought it was (because he is an expert at smelling wines),  from Ballymaloe House came in to educate us on the enormous world of wines. Believe it or not he told us that our pallet will change every 4-7 years, something I never knew. We will have 5 lectures in total on wine. It is a big part of the course and there is even a separate exam on it in week 12 so I had better pay attention!!

On Thursday we cooked up a Sunday roast. A giant roast leg and shoulder of lamb with glazed carrots, gravy and of course no roast dinner is complete without roast spuds. My duty on Thursday was to serve the mains to the dining room. Little did I realise that I would have to be carving the meet for each person. I had to ask if one would like well done or medium. This meant carving from the end of the leg or else the centre. As it was my first time properly carving a serious bit of meat a queue started to form. Next thing I look up and see Darina, Rachel and Myrtle Allen waiting patiently for their lamb, like eyes of three hungry hawks watching me, I found myself serving and carving roast leg of lamb to three outstanding chef’s. No pressure Mick!!, I couldn’t butcher the beautiful piece of meat like I usually do,  this time they had to be perfectly cut slices of lamb. Not too thick and not too thin. All in all I think I managed ok, well they didn’t complain or make any faces like “oh what are you doing Michael?”

Friday’s cooking was just one of those days when everything went wrong. I think it happens to everyone and more than likely it will happen a few more times. I burnt the beans, managed to save them, ran way behind time and forgot to add the egg yolks to the chocolate mousse. Failing to leave the egg yolks out meant that it wasn’t actually mousse more like just really creamy chocolate. I have written that day off and 5 o’clock could not come quick enough as my girlfriend Andrea was coming down from Dublin to see me.

She arrived in darkness so I could not show off my new home and fantastic surroundings. I was very excited to give her a tour of the school, I was sure she would appreciate the grounds of Ballymaloe Cookery School as much as I do. We headed to a pub in Castlemartyr owned by the comedian Pat Shortt for a bite to eat. The head chef is a former pupil of the school so we decided to give it a shot. The food was very nice. I had the fresh fish of the day, caught that morning from Ballycotton. It was plaice and it was very simply cooked on a pan in some butter, just how fish should be served. After our dinner we headed to Ballycotton for a few drinks in the pub. A lot of the other pupils from the school were having a few so it was nice to introduce Andrea to all my new friends.

Ballymaloe Gardens 

  On Saturday I showed Andrea around the school, giving her the VIP tour of course. Every Saturday the school serves fresh pizza’s from their wood burning pizza oven. Naturally  and in true Ballymaloe style the pizza dough is made freshly, along with homemade fennel and pork sausage topped off with some salsa verde. Not surprisingly
we enjoyed it immensely! Andrea went home yesterday evening and it was off to the pub for me. Normally I would not go in to too much detail about my visit to the pub but this time I was standing at the bar waiting to be served and then all of a sudden Rachel Allen comes up to me. I felt privileged, like I was a star student ( I would like to add that I am not).  For the first time I was star struck. She is extremely nice and friendly. A very normal girl who has done extremely well for herself . We chatted for a few minutes about the course and stuff. When I sat down after I was still star struck. What a nice lady!!

Giant Chess

I have another crazy week ahead, no doubt I will learn a ridiculous amount like the past two weeks but still having a blast. Bye for now but eat my words with relish, always with relish J!!!!!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mick went out to milk the cows!!

And milk them I did! On Friday morning I volunteered myself to go milk the cows. It required an early start but I was excited to do it. Eileen is the lady in Ballymaloe who looks after the milking, so I met her at 8.00am and we headed out to the field together to herd them in. Once the cows were in their pens it was time to wash down their udders and and test the teet! On my first attempt milk came out which I was happy about. The teet have an unusal texture….I’ll say no more on that!! Then I connected up the milking machine which consisted of what effectively was a hoover to suck at all the milk, 28 gallons in total from the 3 cows and 2 litres of cream. I did try the milk and it was warm and delicious like the best glass of milk you have ever had although I know it’s not to everyone’s taste. After the milk had been drained it was clean down time. This involves various processes of rinsing the suction system etc, a  very stringent exercise. All necessary of course!!

My Little House

Apart from Darina doing the cooking demo’s in the afternoon’s Rachel Allen, daughter in-law and celeb tv chef, and Rory O’Connell, brother to Darina also give the demo’s. The amount of knowledge and tips they pass on especially Rory. Their passion for fresh quality ingredients is infectious and you can’t help but share their enthusiasm for the food that they cook.

Tasting some of Darina's yummy food after afternoon demo

On a daily basis we cook in the kitchens from 9 until 11.30 to be ready to sit for lunch at 12. It usually ends up being 12.30 before you even get to sit down as most people are plating up for the teacher to be graded on the dish, 1 being terrible and 6 being perfect. We can arrive in at 8.30 in order to prep the veg, spices and herbs which we will be using in the mornings cooking. In the previous afternoon’s demo we would have been shown to cook the various dishes by Darina, Rory or Rachel, thus our time to shine and show our teachers we have paid attention to the demo.

Ruby grapefruit, grape and pomegranate salad

For every mornings cooking we have to write out and Order of Work. This basically means that I write out the steps of the dishes I have to execute, for example 9.00 Peel, chop and fry onions. 9.10 Add to hot pan and fry etc etc. The idea behind doing the order of work is is to help get all the food ready to serve at the same time. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my short time is timing. Timing my cooking so everything comes together ready to serve at 11.30. It is a lot harder than you would think and something which requires practise hence the order of work.

Ardsalagh Goats cheese, fig, walnut & pomegranate salad

A day in Ballymaloe Cookery School doesn’t just involve cooking and lectures. All students have daily duties which they must carry out. These duties can vary from herb picking at 7.30am to making cheese biscuits for the chees board to feeding the hens. Each day is so jammed packed with duties. It is great because it is a good ground for learning life in the kitchen. There is no easy ride down here we all have to clean the kitchens, wash dishes and basically get a taste for the trade of working in a professional kitchen.

Rush hour in Kitchen 1

Hope you all enjoy some of the photo's and hope you continue to eat my words!!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Whirlwind few days!!

I arrived about 5.30 on Sunday evening after a shorter journey than expected from Dublin. Once registered I was shown to my house. To my surprise I was lucky enough to have my own bathroom, result!! My house, known on site as “Mrs Walsh’s House”, is a carbon copy of the house straight out of the film The Holiday with Cameron Diaz. Unfortunately Cameron Diaz is not one of my house mates  : ( 

Once settled, I unloaded my car and went to the welcome dinner which consisted of homemade pizzas baked in the schools very own wood burning pizza oven. As you can imagine they were delicious and left me wanting more!!!!! After dinner we all made our way to the pub in Ballycotton for some live music and I suppose a chance to try and get to know everyone. Being sensible I decided to drive so I could be fresh as a daisy for my first day as a Ballymaloe student!.

On our first morning we were feed a delicious brekkie consisting of homemade breads and jam, freshly squeezed OJ and a cup of cha to wash it all down, YUM YUM!! The one and only Darina Allen then gave us a tour on the school and its gardens. It was incredible to see where all the veg, herbs and vast selection of salad leaves that we use for our daily recipes come from along with chicken coops, pigs and cattle. The produce is literally picked in the morning, prepared and then eaten that afternoon, you can’t get fresher than that!

Once the THREE HOUR tour was finished we were ushered into the demo kitchen for a chat with Darina. She explained rules and various bit of information we would need to know. However little did I know that as I was sitting there listening to Darina, my car was blocking the laneway into the school and so the waste disposal track could not get by. The lecture was interrupted by the secretary and an announcement was made!! “Who owns the blue car blocking the lane?” Instantly I knew straight away that it was my car. I wanted to crawl up in a ball and pretend I wasn’t even there. I reluctantly owned and in front of 50 odd people left the talk to move my car. Very embarrassing and also not a great start to the course. Darina laughed it off afterwards but I was worried I would have a black mark beside my name. EEK!!

The school and it's ethos is very clear, the message that filters through is that produce must be fresh and organic where possible and also everything has a use!! For example once the oranges are juiced for the breakfast, the peels are then boiled in sugar and water to make flavoured citrus syrup. The boiled peels are then dried out and used as firelighters!! In the house and all over the grounds recycling is a priority and it makes you think where all the rubbish you produce actually goes or what other use it could have!?

Peeps please to continue eatmywordswithrelish to read and follow my blog. Photos to come of my journey here in Ballymaloe. I have been so  lazy but more so exhausted from our intensive days to get a few photos together but will do ASAP!!

Talk soon!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

And the Journey begins!!

Hi all,

My very first blog ever on my journey to Ballymaloe and beyond. I was out with my friends tonight, sort of a going away wish me luck meal. Tomorrows the big day!!! I will head down to the cookery school and meet all the other students. I am very excited and naturally a slight bit nervous too. I am yet to pack and organise myself but that can wait til the last minute.

The chef whites are all ready to go, name tags and all thanks to the old dear, thanks mum!! My set of knives to be collected at the school but yet to get the wellies and wet gear together.

I will keep you all posted with the journey and hope to feed your minds with some great recipes. I will start off with a recipe I use for simple potatoe wedges, great for a night in with a few beers or as a side to a nice rib eye steak.

Delicious Wedges:

6-7 medium to large potatoes
5 tables spoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic crushed (or 2 if you like garlic as much as me)
1 tea spoon of coriander seeds
1 tea spoons of cumin seeds
1-2 tea spoons of chilli flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

1. First off  pre-heat oven to 200 degrees celsius.

2. Half the potatoes and cut in to wedges. In a large bowl add olive oil, crushed coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes, crushed clove of garlic salt and pepper. Toss the wedges in the bowl so all wedges are well coated with the delicious mixture.

3. Put the wedges in a roasting tray and in to the oven for approx 40-45 mins. You'll know when they are done depending on how crispy they are.

TOP TIP: Put roasting tray in to the hot oven with a few table spoons of olive oil about 10 minutes before you add the wedges. The heat of the oil will help crisp up your wedges and will make them even more delicious.

I like to eat the wedges with some salsa, even some sour cream or just plain old ketchup!

Ideally a pestel and mortor is the best way to crush your spices but you could also use the ground spices. They are very easily gotten in any supermarket but I find there is some satisfaction in beating the spices down....especially if you have had a bad day!!

Enjoy guys and please let me know what you think or if you have any different variations I would love to know them and hear your feedback.

Talk soon!!