Ballymaloe Days 51-55 (Week 11) – Penul-tomato

It was penultimate week at Ballymaloe, which meant a few things: (1) only one full week left in the kitchens; (2) exams are imminently approaching; and (3) we will all be leaving this place sooner rather than later. It is so weird at the moment. I don’t know how to feel. On the one hand, I am exhausted both mentally and physically (the bags under my eyes are on par with Billy Joel’s at this stage…no amount of Touche Éclat is going to camouflage these dark circles!), but on the other hand, what am I going to do when I get back into the real world? We’ve all been sheltered in this Ballymaloe bubble, and I’ve gotten used to our little routine of cooking/eating/learning/socializing and repeat. I know that I will likely go through some kind of withdrawal for a while after the course has finished. In fact, it has already been confirmed by a number of Ballymaloe alum that you wallow in melancholy until you finally get consumed again by reality. Oh well – life happens, and I’ll figure it out…

Moving on, here’s one of those bullet point recaps of the week:

  • On Tuesday, I made beef rendang, which is basically a Thai or possibly Indonesian or even Sri Lankan dish of beef that is slow-cooked in a coconut and lemongrass sauce. The beef becomes so meltingly tender with just a subtle hint of coconut and a lot of lovely spices. Wow – a great dish to impress guests, so I’ll be making that recipe again for sure. I also made an apple and sweet geranium vol-au-vent (French word meaning “windblown” to reflect the pastry’s lightness), which is when you take puff pastry and make it into a little case or box by making a lid with the top of the pastry, filling the pastry case up with something amazing, and then replacing the top. Voila! You have yourself a lovely little dessert. You can also make them savory as well, and fill it with lobster á la Crème, beef Bourguignon, etc., etc. Again, your guests will be impressed, and you will surely win friends and influence people (as Darina always points out), so it’s a win-win.
  • On Wednesday, we had our wine exam, which consisted of 100 multiple choice questions about wines, grapes, regions, and fermentation processes. There was even a question on the wine I presented, and it freaked me out to see my name written in the question. (I made sure to double-check my answer – how embarrassing would it be to get my own personal question wrong?) Overall, I think I did pretty well on the exam…I mean, I really hope I did well on it. Afterall, not to toot my own horn (which means I’m about to do just that), I just received my advanced certification in wines from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust a few weeks ago, and that exam included a blind tasting (I passed that part with distinction…go me!) and a very extensive essay/short answer section (which I passed with merit…she shoots, she scores!). Okay, back to modest me.
  • Also, on Wednesday, we had a sushi demonstration and learned about all different kinds of sushi (nigiri sushi, gunkan maki, temaki, scattered sushi, California rolls, and even a sun-dried tomato and mozzarella sushi). The best part of the demonstration was when Japanese student Takashi got up to show us how to properly fan the sushi rice with one of those delicate-looking Japanese fans (you know, the ones that have a geisha’s face adorning both sides). Anyway, Tak was quite knowledgeable about his homeland’s cuisine, and speaking of Tak, I have to give a shout-out to his very creative blog, which you should go and visit by clicking here: The Adventures of Mini Tak.
  • So on Thursday I made a beef consommé. I had a very, very vague notion as to what a consommé was (I always thought it was some kind of savory jelly-type thing), but it turns out to actually be a clear soup made from clarified stock that you simmer for what seems like ages. I put a tiny bit of sherry into mine when it was finished, and I was well-pleased with the result. I also made a hazelnut cake, which is tied with the walnut cake that I made a few weeks back as my favorite cake that I have made on the course. I can now make two cakes successfully. Dreams do come true.
  • Friday came, and I made timbales of smoked salmon with cucumber and fennel and some iced chocolate oranges. Since my brother is a percussionist, I know what the musical version of a timbale is, and I’m assuming the culinary version got its name because of its drum-like shape. The dish came out fine, as it was literally just about following the recipe and putting all of the components together. The creativity was in the plating and presentation part of it, which I am finally getting better at doing (mainly because I watch and take copious drawings of how Rory plates his food during demos). The iced chocolate oranges were a different story altogether. Can I just say that they are a complete pain-in-the-ass to make (scooping out the orange pulp takes forever)…not to mention they are a total throwback to the seventies (my least favorite decade) in terms of what they look like when they are plated? Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on those iced chocolate oranges, but whatever. I can be bitchy about some foods, can’t I?

Well, that’s it for now, kiddos. I need to get studying for my final exams. Besides revising all of my notes over the last twelve weeks and finishing my filing, my plans for the weekend include going to a farewell dinner with Jamie and Co. at The Herring Gull restaurant in Ballycotton on Friday night and attending a bread-making seminar on Saturday morning with Tim Allen. Here’s to a relaxing but productive weekend!

Photos for your viewing pleasure:

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