I’ll admit it. I’m falling behind with these blog posts. I was so good at the beginning of the course with my daily posts, and I had every intention of keeping it going, but you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell. Just kidding…sort of. Anyway, it’s mainly because Ballymaloe is intense. It is full-on everyday, which is great because I’m learning and getting to do so much here. On the other side of the coin, I almost never have any time to just chill out, and I’m feeling a little sleep-deprived at the moment…full days in the kitchens plus some long nights in the pub equals a perpetually tired Lisa. Although maybe they are also just preparing us for life as a chef…chefs all seem to be a very nocturnal bunch, don’t they?
Well, let’s see if I can remember what I did this week. On Monday, I was assigned to make chargrilled squid with chilli and parsley oil. I wasn’t too excited about having to stick my hand up the squid to take out squid guts/ink sacks/general goo, but it wasn’t too bad in the end. Squids are called the ‘scribes of the sea’ because there is a clear, plastic-like ‘bone’ inside them that when you take it out, it looks exactly like a perfectly formed quill. It’s funny how nature works. I also made what is probably my favorite dessert that we’ve been taught on the course: passionfruit mousse with sugared strawberries. It was also my first time using gelatin (we used the gelatin leaves for this recipe), and the resulting mousse was gorgeous, smooth, and delicious. Since I prefer fruit-based desserts to chocolate-based ones (I think I might be the only woman on this planet who doesn’t have a thing for chocolate), I was a huge fan. Lastly, I rounded out my morning by baking some Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread. I may never buy bread again when I finish the course. It’s actually much more fun to make your own.
On Tuesday, we were all assigned dishes that are typically prepared at Ballymaloe House for their Sunday buffet. My first dish was a roast Kassler, which was a dish that was completely foreign to me. It turns out that Kassler is a German name given to a salted and slightly smoked cut of pork (usually neck or loin). It was pretty easy to prepare, since I just popped the meat into an oven on a roasting tray for the allotted amount of time. Then I was able to work on my other assigned dishes, which included a green pea soup with fresh mint cream, a cauliflower salad, and a leek vinaigrette. I was excited about the soup, since I love all kinds of soups. The color was such a bright green, and the flavor was amazing – sharp and intense. I was surprised because we used frozen peas. (don’t judge – they are just as good as fresh ones in the off season). The soup could be served hot or cold. I think it would be perfect to served it chilled in the summertime with a nice glass of Vinho Verde or a Sauvignon Blanc. Mmmm…My other two dishes were nice as well, but I’m more proud of my plating of them, as I was finally complemented for how I arranged my dishes (it only took 9 weeks of being here!). When the leek vinaigrette was finished, I arranged the leeks horizontally by size on a long oval plate and framed the plate with sprigs of chervil. With the cauliflower salad, I ended up placing the cauliflower florets back into the original shape of the head of cauliflower and set it center stage on a large round decorative plate. It was sort of like playing Tetris with a bunch of cauliflower florets, but in the end, the presentation looked great.
Wednesday was another full day of demonstrations, and the morning session was all about cheese (including a bunch of French ones: Saint Maure, Valençay, Chabis, Crottin de Chavignol, Morbier, Rocamadour, Selles sur Cher, Lingot du Quercy, Brique de Brebis, and Fleur de Maquis) and how to make homemade liqueurs (limoncello, rhubard gin, and orange brandy). Then we had a great demonstartion on canapés, hors d’œuvres, and other finger foods, which included smoked salmon spirals, thai curry bites, mini cottage pies, quail eggs, etc., etc., etc. My stomach was growling in hunger the entire time!
After the demos were over, we were taken on a tour of the Ballymaloe House, which is the country home and hotel owned by the Allen family. The house was actually built in 1450 (as in 42 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue!), which gives you an an idea of the amount of history surrounding the place. We also toured the kitchen and wine cellar of the acclaimed restaurant in the Ballymaloe House. Incidentally, the sommelier told us that Jay Z came to Ballymaloe House a few years ago, and the sommelier was impressed with how much Jay Z knew about wines. Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre was his wine of choice at the restaurant. You gotta give it to him – the man has taste!
Thursday was a hectic day both in and out of the kitchen. With my cooking, I was set for poached pears in a saffron syrup, which was a lovely dessert. My instructor told me that my syrup should have been more colored from the saffron, but then Darina told us later on that the syrup should not be a dark color, so I don’t know whose instructions to follow. I guess I’m just happy that I didn’t burn my pears and that the dessert was actually edible. Then I was assigned a madras curry with poori bread. I had fun deep-frying the poori dough to make it all bubbly and ugly-looking (but delicious-tasting). I had to skip out halfway through afternoon demo, as my parents were flying in for the weekend. I told them that I would meet them in Cork and drive down to Ballymaloe together. There wasn’t a chance in hell that they would be able to find their way here on their own, based mainly on the following: (1) their having driving on the other side of the road (despite my father’s claims that he once drove around Bermuda just fine); (2) darkness would be setting in by the time they were on the road; and (3) the state of the country roads around here – narrow, windy, littered with potholes, blind spots galore, and ridiculously dangerous speed limits of upwards of 80 kilometres/hour on roads that look like dirt paths. Fortunately, another student graciously offered to drive me up to Cork and lead the way back to Shanagarry where the school and hotel are located. On a funny note, when we got into Cork City, an old man randomly walked up to me and said in a heavy Cork accent, “Can I tell you something?” I wasn’t sure what to make of him, so I cautiously responded, “Ahh, okay?” He then looked at me intently and said, “You are a fine woman indeed!” And then he just walked away! I’m pretty sure that he was drunk, but I’ll take the compliment! In the end, we collected my parents and all drove back to Shanagarry safe and sound.
On Friday, my parents were coming for lunch, so I was able to plate up two dishes of goujons of monkfish, chips, and some white chocolate mousse for them. I even was able to fillet another monkfish, and I have to say that those ugly fish are really growing on me…plus, they taste delicious! This weekend will be spent showing my parents around Ballymaloe and the local towns. We have made a booking for dinner at Farm Gate in Midleton, which I’ve heard great things about. Then there is going to be a BBQ on Saturday night that Kait organized and that Instructor Ted will be catering. On Sunday, I am doing a one-night stage in the restaurant at Ballymaloe House, so it will be a busy weekend. To be continued…
In the meantime, enjoy some photos, won’t you?