After the lovely, long weekend, everyone was raring to go on Tuesday. You’d think I’d be fed up of it by now, but I couldn’t wait to get into the kitchen, and was excited about cracking on with my Tuscan Apple Tart. Unfortunately, it met the same fate as my Lemon Meringue Pie. I popped it in a nice 160°C oven, and was busy finely chopping my onions and parsnip, only to take a quick look at my cake baby and notice it turning a worrying shade of brown. Someone had turned my oven up to 230°C. Panic ensued, as I did the mature, responsible thing and running to my teacher in a flap saying “someone has sabotaged my apple tart!” She came to the rescue and let out a load of heat, turned the oven down and put a bit of parchment paper over it to stop it getting even crisper. Luckily, it was an upside down cake, so the singed bits were hidden on the bottom (although I was still forbidden from serving it in the dining room). My victory that morning ended up being my pita breads. Little puffs of yeasty goodness, they looked and tasted great. I used up all my pita dough, as I didn’t want to meet the same fate as one of my housemates. He had pita dough left over, and knew he couldn’t put it in the bin or hen bucket without being excommunicated. Instead, he popped it in the pocket of his apron and decided to deal with it later. That was fine until he noticed that it had started to rise and he’d developed a bit of a pita paunch…
Burger and chip day was one of the major highlights this week. We learnt how to make proper chips in all shapes and sizes (see below), and got to make beef, lamb and pork burgers. Having got a meat grinder this year, I spent most of the summer experimenting with different combinations, but think I’ve been converted to the Ballymaloe pork and pistachio burger with apple and damson sauce. I was making a regular old beef burger on Thursday (which is always a winner), and wrapped my little beauties in caul fat for the first time. This is fat from the inside of a pig’s stomach, and looks a bit like a spiderweb. You wrap it around burgers with a lower fat content, and it loads them up with all the juicyness you need.
One of the things I’m learning here is that it pays to be very well prepared. Every evening we read through our recipes for the following day and write an order of work. Your success in the kitchen is often largely based on whether you’ve properly analysed your recipes and know what you should be doing when. It also depends on your morning prep. We are expected to be in the kitchen by 8.30, and our teachers arrive by 9. During that time, we can start weighing up our ingredients, chopping and basically being ready to go. Sometimes, our ingredients haven’t arrived by 8.30 which leads to grumbling and moans. However, that’s inevitable when we’re dealing with such fresh ingredients. Most of the vegetables are picked that morning (by an army of farmers), the fish has often been freshly caught down the road in Ballycotton and as one of the teachers told us “these oranges are coming all the way from South Africa, so we can just wait a few more minutes.” I like to think of this as good practice for working in a professional kitchen. If you want good food produced on a small scale, it takes time.
Once the teachers have arrived, we get a briefing, which is where they outline what we’re cooking, warn us of anything to look out for and give us tips. My favourite tip this week was that our pannacotta should wobble like a woman’s breast, and I am happy to say that my buttermilk pannacotta had a healthy jiggle.
As for the exams… On Friday afternoon, we were casually told that our results would be available at 6.30 from Darina. When the time arrived, we stood in a slightly panicky, orderly line outside her office. As predicted, I got great marks on my herb and salad exam and lost a few marks on my technique exam for disrespect towards fish. I’m just going to have to practice! Feel free to pop around for a fishy dinner anytime soon… I will also feed you with sourdough, as I have about a million loaves on the go, including a beer-filled experiment tomorrow!
This weekend, I also took off to West Cork with two of the girls from the course (all in the name of research;) Here are some pictures of wonderful, sunny Glengariff!