Ballymaloe Day 25: “You could knock out the whole of Munster with that!”

I’ve a confession to make. I absolutely hate spicy food. It sizzles my tongue and burns my insides and I can never make head nor tail of what I’ve been tasting.

You’d think given my Vietnamese heritage, and being in close proximately to Thailand, that I’d have some sort of tolerance to the heat but sadly no.

I remember one time in an unnamed hotel, I accidentally ordered something quite spicy and had to politely ask them for milk again and again.

So it really came as no surprise that I was worried about the spicy Thai, coconut and squash soup that I was meant to be rustling up today!

Warning my teacher Gary of the fact that my tongue tends to die when I taste heat, he advised me to pull back further on the required curry paste and to focus on the deeper flavours to the broth.

The spices hit the pan and the smell rose to my face. “Not bad, so far”, I thought as I stirred.

Surrounding me were people dashing to get their cakes cooked, constructed and glacéed. The course’s first cake competition was in full swing and I was secretly delighted that I was getting the opportunity to focus on savoury delights!

As I added more stock, vegetables and seasoning to the soup, I noticed the flavours coming through. Though definitely not as spicy as the dishes around me, it still had a lovely kick in it that lingered and warmed my chest.

With an extra squeeze of lime and helpings of fish sauce, I tasted and tasted to make sure that I reached the flavour that I was satisfied with. The result?

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Though it could have done with an extra bit of fish sauce, I was pretty happy with how it came out.

Aside from soup, I put together a gorgeously green and creamy, curly kale purée (that I could easy eat from now until the end of my life) and a chicken and couscous salad with pomegranate and mint.

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A good day’s cooking, and admiring the many beautiful cakes that donned our dining area, I had not just one helping, but two!

Darina took us for demo today where herself, Pam and Pat prepared a traditional Irish feast.

Bacon and ham sat firmly on the agenda and we were treated to succulent meat along with cabbage, as well as helpings of soup and an apple, blackberry and sweet geranium tart.

By the way, when you’re writing recipes, consider the wider audience and possible conversions.

Darina told us of a recipe she was trying out that had about one American cup of chili flakes but it converted to about 230 grams. Imagine! I think I might’ve died.

“You could knock out the whole of Munster with that!” she said, much to our amusement.

As a special treat, journalist, food writer and all-round hero Caroline Hennessy came into the cookery school for an evening demo on craft beer and Eight Degrees Brewing.

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Teaming up Colm McCan who acted as host, we tasted a variety of beers that had such individual tastes that I surprised myself at how much I enjoyed them.

Like wine, my knowledge of craft beer is still growing and I was delighted that Caroline came in to share time with us and how she shed light on the reality of opening a brewery.

I’ve mentioned Caroline and Kristin Jensen’s book, Sláinte, before, but genuinely I think it’s a worthy investment.

Tomorrow marks the end of week four (I KNOW), and I’ve strawberry jam on my list of things to do, as well as a few only tasty things.

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Some random things I learned today:

  • There are approximately 3,000 people in Ireland who own two or more pigs.
  • If you’re looking for a blight resistant potato to grow, consider the Blue Danube (I can confirm that it tastes lovely!)
  • I’ve mentioned this before I think, but it’s worth repeating the importance of holding back water when cooking things like pasta and noodles. Often when you drain them, the pasta clumps together, but with a drop of the cooking water, hey presto, you’re back in action.
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