Sunday, 12 February 2012


Dates Stuffed with marzipan

Darina had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that in week 5 there tends to be a dip amongst students. The four weeks previous takes its toll and students get tired. It amazes me because she is not often wrong and again she was on the money. A bug has been doing the rounds and a good few students caught it, me being one! Sunday morning began with me being ill and carried into Monday causing me to miss the mornings cooking and the afternoon demo. Thankfully I am over it now.
Mondays afternoon’s demo was dedicated to breakfast. Muffins, pancakes, granola, bucks fizz and of course the Irish Fry, to name but a few, they were all demonstrated to us by Rory. I unfortunately missed it but I was told that it was great as many people down here are looking to open small café’s and breakfast is a big seller especially for the weekend trade!!
Rachel's Mushroom Soup
Most weeks we are introduced to a new producer who supply the school with a product. This week Martin Conroy, a local free range pig farmer, came in to talk to us. His sausages are 90% pork and the remaining 10% consists of herbs, breadcrumbs and spices. Your normal brand name sausage may only contain 65-70% pork and the remaining 30-35% is god knows what but it is not very appetising I can assure you that. Their farm is local to the school and they sell all their produce within 15 miles of the farm thus reducing the distance the product has to travel. I have come to learn that food miles/carbon footprint is very important and that it is something I have never considered until now if I am in the supermarket doing my shopping. Let’s say for instance you head down to your local supermarket to buy a bottle of vino. You are stuck between two bottles, the Riesling from Germany which is mass produced, or the organic Sauvignon Blanc which has travelled from Australia. It is more than likely that although the Riesling has only come a short distance, across the Continent from Germany, the producing of the wine has had more of an impact on the environment than the Sauvignon Blanc that comes from a small vineyard in Australia. Something to think about next time you pick up a product in the supermarket.

Baked apple with cinnamon sugar and marzipan

On Wednesday Darina’s sister, Blathnaid Bergin, came in to talk to us. She owns and runs a restaurant and kitchen management course in Abbeyleix, a similar set up to the 12 week certificate course I am doing. She has been in the business for many years and aside from running the school she does a lot of consultancy work and is a restaurant advisor. She began by playing an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen nightmares. The restaurant he went in to save was called “Momma Cherrie’s Soul Food Shack”. Every 15 minutes or so she would pause and ask us a few questions such as why the business was not working even though the food was good etc. Blathnaid said as potential restauranteurs we could learn a lot from his show as it points out key areas where cafes and restaurants fall down.
My pan fried scallops with beurre blanc sauce

Rory's raspberry fool (we will be making this tomorrow)
The main thing I learned from Blathnaids lecture was that before you even sit down to write a business plan, choose a location or decide on a name for your café/restaurant you need to know your menu. The menu will dictate the clientele you will look to attract, the styling of the restaurant and what style of food will you will be serving? Lots of questions need to be answered but once you have decided on your menu then you can progress to the next stages. One thing that really stuck out in my mind was that Blathnaid mentioned that if we were opening a café, open it on the sunny side of the street. I thought this was a great simple point that usually would not strike people however it makes perfect sense. Who wants to sit on the dark shaded side of the street, although it’s not like we are guaranteed 50 days of sunshine in Ireland, we are lucky to get 10!! I learned a huge amount from this lecture and thankfully Blathnaid comes back this Wednesday to continue so no doubt I will have learned a few more tips, I will keep you posted!!

On Thursday morning I was cooking a Chicken casserole dish, Ulster champ and buttered cabbage. I arrived in to the kitchen nice an early to get some prep work done in the hope that I could keep to my order of work and make things generally easy for myself. First on my list of things to do was to chop the carrots, fairly mundane and straight forward!! However through a lack of concentration the heel of my chef’s knife, of which I had just sharpened, came down on the corner of my finger, CHOP!!! Next I stopped, lifted up my hand and saw a juicy fingertip and most of my nail fall off the knife and in to my hand. It took me a few seconds to realise what I had done. I stood there looking at this piece of flesh, finger nail still attached, saying to myself “Is that a piece of finger, my finger??”  Of course it was! Who else owned it. Straight to First Aid I went to have it bandaged up! Pam, first aid nurse and great cook, saw it and kind of made a curious face almost to say “wow that’s a good chunk!”. Keeping it dry is important and I have to wear a plastic glove on my left hand when cooking. It is a nuisance but it is very Michael Jackson esque!!

The English Market 

Lots of fresh Fruit & Veg
An array of great sambo's
On Saturday myself and a few others decided to head in to the English Market in Cork City Centre. It was strange to see civilisation, traffic lights and roundabouts because we are so immersed in the cookery school Monday to Friday. I had heard a lot of good things about it. My expectations were high and I was not disappointed at all. The vast selection of fresh fish, meat, fruit, veg and Artizan producers was overwhelming. The array of cheeses and cooked meats were amazing. I felt like a child in a shop that sold sweets AND toys!! The selection was so great that I had to do a couple of laps just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Once I had done this I was happy that I could begin my shopping, God forbid I had missed something!! Myself and two of my house mates decided we would cook a nice dinner. We decided that seen as our technique exam is on this Friday we would buy some whole fish and fillet it ourselves. After much deliberation and help from the very nice fishmonger from Ballycotton Seafood I decided to buy a Turbot (flat fish), Cora bought a Gurnard (round fish) (Gurnard is very similar to monkfish but far cheaper. It is not as well known but well worth trying) and Takashi bought a Sea Bass (also a round fish). I was shocked at the price of the fresh fish we had bought. It was sssssoooo cheap.  My fish was €9, the Gurnard was €4.50 and the sea Bass was €5.50. I find it hard to understand how fishermen make a living considering such fresh produce was so cheap. I am in awe of fishermen and what they do and have a new appreciation for fish too. We rounded up some veg and headed back to the bubble that is Ballymaloe.

My Turbot
We filleted our fish together, helped each other out and the end result meant that we had several delicious fillets of fish ready to be cooked. It was a very satisfying exercise and once you learn how to fillet a fish you won’t buy pre-filleted fish again as it is a way of saving you money. Now,  I am no expert, but I think fish is best cooked simply. Dip both side of the fillet in seasoned  flour, shake off excess and fry in some oil and butter. It’s good to know that if you add oil and butter to the pan the oil has a higher burning point but you still get that nice taste of butter without it burning. Just before removing from the pan squeeze some lemon juice over the fish and serve. This is what we did and to accompany our fish we cooked brussel sprouts (remembering not to cover with a lid because it is green veg) with crispy pancetta dressed in olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, glazed carrots and good old fashioned mashed spuds. For dessert we cooked the most simple of all, rice pudding (we stirred some raspberry jam through it) See recipe below. It was all divine and the silence at the dinner table is always a great sign. It was a nice way to finish off a long week.

Our feast!!

Talk soon for more culinary delights!!

Ballymaloe Old Fashioned Rice Pudding

Serves 6-8

Preheat oven to 180C

100g Pearl Rice (short grain rice)
50g Sugar
Small knob of butter
1.2 litres of milk
1 Vanilla pod and seeds (optional)

Put rice and sugar into pie dish. Scrap out pod seeds and add to a pan with milk, bring to the boil. Add boiling milk to pie dish, remove vanilla pod if using. Bake in the oven for 1 to 1.5 hours. Don’t be alarmed as the top of the mixture will brown in the oven. The mixture should be soft and creamy with the milk having been soaked up. A good tip is to pit your pie dish on the oven shelf before you pour your boiling milk in. This will save you the hassle of walking with the pie dish to the oven trying desperately hard not to spill any of the boiling milk.

Great served with a blob of any jam or even some stewed apples.

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