Category Archives: Ballymaloe

Ballymaloe Day 74: At the quack of dawn

Last night I managed to smash a pavlova on the floor, slip on a carpet and skid across the dining room and a dog grabbed one of my bread rolls and ran away (thankfully this was all in my dreams).

My dreams seem to be getting stranger and stranger and with the end in sight, I’m expecting them to end in a climax of crazy emotions.

This morning I was on salad duty, so getting up at the quack of dawn (prepare for duck puns), I headed into the cookery school to meet with Haulie, who’s one of the gardener’s here.

Scooting over the glasshouses, we hopped down and picked and plucked fresh salad leaves from the ground that would happily in our tummies come lunch time.

Heading into the kitchen before nine, it was time to prep for the day ahead which included a lot of duck!

When we get meat to cook here on the course, it’s not as simple as just getting part of the animal and working away with it – we’ve got to dismantle it.

With two large whole ducks plonked in front of me (I just needed the legs), I got to work on cutting away the meat and rendering down the fat. Looks like I had to wing it.

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I forgot to mention that the insides also tend to come with the duck too and I’m glad I’m not squeamish to say the least! (My partner Ian, see lead image, managed to get some action shots).

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(What came inside… mmmmmm)

Hacking away at the duck with a cleaver, it eventually got to the stage where I could pop it into the oven to cook away happily for the next hour.

Time whizzed by and like always I was close to the last person leaving the kitchen, but for the first time this week, I actually felt good about what I produced. Things were looking up.

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(Duck legs with onion and thyme)

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(Celery and toasted cashew nut salad)

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(Tomato fondue with plenty of parsley!)

Today’s demo came with an Asian feel, and with Emer as our host, we flew through and covered so many great things.

I love Asian food, and it was great to see her demo traditional Chinese/Vietnamese spring rolls as well as fresh rolls and Vietnamese dipping sauce – like sushi, I could lash these all up in a heartbeat.

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You mightn’t believe it at this hour, but I’m already in bed and running through notes for the impending final exams next week.

Oh by the way, guess what I’m cooking tomorrow? … Meringue… I’m definitely determined to defeat it this time!

Until tomorrow, slán agus beannacht.

Some random things I learned today:

  • Larger, flat mushrooms are just button mushrooms that have expanded outwards and gotten bigger!
  • Like most products, always check the label. When it comes to things like rosewater, see that it has just two ingredients: rose and water. Otherwise it’s more than likely a poorer substitute for that more natural flavour.
  • I’ve mentioned this before I think but worth remembering that one egg white is about 25g.
  • All rose petals are edible, as long as they haven’t been sprayed.
  • One way to see if a duck leg is done, is to see if the meat is pulling away from the knuckle, or if a skewer has no problem going through the meat.

Ballymaloe Day 73: Úna dreams of sushi

I yawned so hard this morning that I thought my head would fall off.

Last night in a bid to get all of the last minute wine revision into our system, Sophie, Martha and I blitzed through our notes.

Up at the crack of dawn, we pulled on our chef whites, for formality, and heading into the cookery school for our wine exam.

With an hour to answer 100 questions on wine, I was glad I had studied beforehand. Though there were a few questions that I wasn’t 100% sure about, thankfully I felt quite comfortable going through the whole paper.

With a short break before our official learning day began, I pulled on normal clothes and prepared for a demo of glorious sushi.

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Anyone that knows me will probably know that I’m absolute sushi and sashimi fiend, so I was pretty excited to be learning all about how to put this nuggets of rice together.

Though I’ve eaten a monster’s worth of sushi over the years (and easily a kilo of sashimi), I’ve only ever rolled them twice!

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(Darina fanning the sushi rice, much to our amusement!)

After my fill of sushi, dolma and lamb – a bizarre but wonderful conglomerate of food – the afternoon demo took a new turn into Christmasland.

Now personally I’m not a huge fan of the sweeter side of Christmas, except mulled wine, but I was still fascinated to see everything come together in a festive array of food.

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(Pam working her magic)

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(Tracie and Pat rocking the festive look)

Coming up with frosted tangerines, pudding, trifle, mincemeat pies and a yule log, Pam and her team of merry reindeer elves worked hard at making Christmas beautiful.

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Feeling a bit under-the-weather, but thankfully not bad yet, tomorrow we’re back in the kitchen where I’ll be cooking duck legs with onion and thyme among other things.

Ciao!

Some random things I learned today:

  • Nori is seaweed that has been roasted and pressed.
  • Wasabi comes from the root of the wasabi plant – yes, it’s a plant!
  • Pickled ginger is meant to be a palate cleanser when you’re eating sushi.
  • When buying rice vinegar, check to see that it’s not flavoured in any way – better to get it as natural as possible.
  • If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, try Tamari sauce!

Ballymaloe Day 72: Death by meringue part two…

Meringue is definitely not my friend. It’s an evil force that’s determined to drive me off course – maybe, perhaps, probably not.

With just two things on my to-do list today, I thought that I’d be ok in terms of time, but like most days I was like a tortoise on a highway.

Getting to work on my chocolate meringue with chocolate and rum cream, I popped the egg whites into the mixer and crossed my fingers.

It didn’t work, they weren’t coming together.

Eventually after what seemed like a decade, I managed to make a meringue for the oven that was flavoured with angsty feelings.

Wiping sweat from my brow, the next part was to get chocolate melted for decorations that were to sit on top (by the way, they didn’t end well).

My meringue cracked and before long it was time to attempt to actually get it on a plate and layer it up.

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(My finally presentation after MUCH tweaking)

Accidentally messing up my decorations, I had to console myself with a different design which delayed me further before heading into the dining room. Oh well, at least the Moules Provencale came out right!

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I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me this week – I’m just feeling so frustrated about my ability in the kitchen. It’s like I’ve stepped back to week one.

Duck was on the demo menu this afternoon and I was delighted to see Rachel Allen at the helm again.

Tomorrow morning we have our wine exam and I’m hoping that it’ll go well considering I potentially want to work in wine.

So tonight, I’m attempting to relax with a glass of vino and a sense of wanting to do better and be less of a grump. Cheers!

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Some random things I learned today:

  • If you’re making consommé and it starts to get too cloudy, add another egg white and cook for an extra 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Two duck breasts sliced will easily serve three people.
  • Whisking egg whites in a copper bowl will give them much more volume.
  • Vitis vinifera is the species of grape for wine.
  • Corked wine effects 5 – 10% of all wines.
  • A White Bordeaux is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion.
  • White Burgundy is made from Chardonnay and Red Burgundy is typically made from Pinot Noir.

Ballymaloe Day 71: Dropping like flies

If there were awards for snail-speed enthusiasts, I’d be getting a gold medal. My day was a mixture of being slow and steady and ultimately it wasn’t a good one.

Getting up this morning, like most Mondays, was a bit of an effort and heading back into the kitchen with impending exams and more study ahead kept sticking in the mind.

Today I had but a few things to cook, and was planning to get to work on some techniques during the morning’s cooking.

In a nutshell, common sense was not on my side and I struggled in a lot of things. It’s very much a “I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it” situation.

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(My white yeast rolls)

The problem was, was that even though I finally managed to produce something, I wasn’t truly happy with the outcome.

The only thing I was satisfied with was that I cooked my tuna properly and that it was wonderfully raw in the centre.

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(My pan-seared tuna with tapenade and caponata)

These types of days happen in Ballymaloe and sometimes it can be such an effort to try and get through them. It can feel like the world is crumbling in on you, but sometimes it can just be a breath of fresh air that can give you energy again.

Feeling slightly down, my brain remained frazzled throughout the day and my body felt weak. It turns out that a lot of people are out at the moment with flu-like system so the chances are that I may start to get woozy.

As a treat this evening we got to taste a large selection of olive oils, olives and balsamic vinegar. Probably as complex as wine, it’s amazing the variety of flavours that you can get from a simple olive and see the difference in price. We even got to taste a special balsamic vinegar that has been again for over 30 years.

Darina pointed out that a fantastic present for a person who loves food could be an excellent olive oil, and it would last longer than wine (though if anyone’s listening, I would still appreciate a nice bottle of vino!)

Back in the house for the evening, the hinges in my legs are stiff and my arms are heavy. I think I’ll read a bit and then head to bed. Fingers crossed tomorrow will be a brighter and better day…

As a complete aside, delighted to have found out that I made the final shortlist for the RaboTweeties 2014! I’m nominated alongside some fantastic journalists and friends.

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Some random things I’ve learned:

  • It’s thought that the first olive groves were cultivated around 1000BC.
  • Olive trees can live well over 200 years.
  • Green olives produce a bitter oil and overripe olives produce rancid oil.
  • Extra Virgin and Virgin olive oil cannot contain refined oil. Oils labelled as Pure olive oil or simply Olive Oil are usually a blend of refined and Virgin or Extra Virgin oil.
  • To retain maximum flavour of your olive oil store it away from direct sunlight, under 21 degrees Celsius – even in a cool cupboard.
  • If the oil is stored in the fridge or a very cold place it’ll probably become cloudy – it this happens just let it come back to room temperature and the cloudiness should disappear.
  • Contrary to what a lot of people think, olive oil can be heated to 210 degrees celsius so it is excellent for frying or sautéing

Ballymaloe Day 70: The best bottle on the table is always the empty one

It was a rough start to a Sunday morning. Waking up late to the sound of tweeting birds, I knew that there was only one thing I’d be studying all day: wine.

For those who don’t know, we have a flock of white pigeons that live above our Coach House that like to come down each day for a drink and a feed.

Somewhat soothing, their presence is quite lovely, especially when they let you give them a stroke of their feather – So you can imagine my horror when we saw a fat cat nabbing one!

Rushing out in my pyjamas and wellies, I tried to get to it as fast as I could but he was sadly pulled away. Feeling glum, we gave the rest of the birds a feed and then noticed another bird in distress.

Tossing and turning on the gravel, a small robin red-breast had flown into one of the windows in the courtyard and was in a complete panic – he sadly lost his battle too.

Totally disheartened, the rest of the day pretty much just involving me stuffing my face at regular intervals while on my break from studying wine.

By the way, Colm always stressed that when it came to wine it was all about personal taste and even remarks in our notes that, “the best bottle on the table is always the empty one”. Don’t ever worry if you feel out of your depth when it comes to wine – I certainly once thought that I would never know anything.

Going through styles, regions, varieties and terminology, I think it’s only fair if I treat myself to a glass of Riesling.

Tomorrow marks the start of week 11 and with just two weeks left, I can’t believe that we’ve made it this far.

Cheers!

(My avocado was just perfectly ripe today, hence the proud photo)

Ballymaloe Day 69: A ray of sunshine among cuts of meat

The diagram just wasn’t sticking – I couldn’t remember any of it.

I woke up this morning with information swirling around – for some reason I had measurements on the mind and couldn’t get the ratio of salt to water for curing meat out of my brain.

Up early with a long list of things to-do on the agenda, I decided to head out before I became completely trapped in the Ballymaloe bubble.

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Walking along the road with fellow housemates, it was great to just get out. I don’t think I’m the only person that has cabin fever and at this stage I wished that we were past the exam stage and on the real home stretch.

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Depositing two of our friends at a café, we strolled along to Shanagarry strand and basked in the sunshine while breathing in the fresh, sea air. It was tranquility at its finest.

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Back home on the ranch, it was down to looking through notes and studying to my heart’s content.

Everyone has their own system but when it comes to hitting the books all I need is some peace and quiet with pens, paper and highlighters.

Taking 45 minute slots at a time, so far I’ve looked at cuts of meat, mother and daughter sauces, cake and bread notes, food business and spice notes – to say I’ve an information overload is an understatement and I’ve a lot more to do.

There’s so much to learn over this 12 week course and I almost wish we had a mock exam so that we could see what the layout is potentially like – it’s really like a mini-Leaving Cert all over again.

All shall be well. Back to the books folks – my break is over!

Ballymaloe Day 68: Goodbye week ten!

I stuck the spoon into my mouth, left it dangling and continued chopping onions. There was a method to this madness!

Today officially marked the end of week 10 here at Ballymaloe, and I woke up this morning with the Friday feeling swinging around my insides.

I mentioned yesterday that we were demoed pork belly and crackling, which meant that we students had to cook it in the following morning i.e. the belly was mine!

Getting to work on my glorious and delicious piece of organic meat, I eyed up the gorgeous flesh and immediately couldn’t wait to tuck into it.

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With the pork in the oven sizzling away, I got started on my Mediterranean fish soup with rouille. On our recipe notes, it remarks how the soup is neither quick nor easy and that pretty much describes it in a nutshell.

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(Monkfish with battle scars)

This isn’t just any cook-it-up-and-put-it-in-a-blender soup, it’s probably the most labour-intensive soup I’ve ever done in my life.

Armed with a butcher’s cleaver, the first part involved me bashing fish with brute force, then chopping bits into chunks and putting them on to cook. The next part got more tedious when I had to pre-brown bits of bread in the oven to crisp up.

The third element of my dish involved me picking out all the mussels and cockles and removing them from their shells so that I could eventually pass things through a mouli. For those who don’t know, a mouli is like a giant grater that’s hand operated and looks like a BEAST of equipment (You churn all the stuff inside and everything goes through the sieve).

Now, me being a short person, meant that I was on my tippy-toes trying to work this thing and get it through, and with the help of my partner, Jim, we suffered on.

But that wasn’t the end – oh no! I had yet to make the rouille, the accompanying sauce for the soup. The rouille couldn’t be made until the soup was made, because you had to dip the bread in it to soak up the flavour and mix with other ingredients to a paste. Phew.

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(My final presentation)

My belly of pork continued to crisp up, and eventually one of my pieces was ready to come out of oven.

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(My presentation for my belly of pork, sitting on spiced aubergines)

Into the dining room for a top-up of lunch, I saw weary faces sitting around me and totally understood where they were coming from (By the way, who was sitting opposite me but athletics champion Derval O’Rourke!)

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Demo began and we had the wonderful Rachel as our host. There are many foods that make me go “ooh” and one of them is tuna.

Searing it on the outside and leaving it lovely and raw on the inside, I marvelled again at the ingredients that we get in Ballymaloe (guess who gets to cook it on Monday).

The weekend beckons and my bed awaits. Next Wednesday morning we have our wine exam so don’t be surprised if I through more wine facts at you!

Until tomorrow my Beanies. Slán agus beannacht.

EDIT: I completely forgot to mention the spoon the mouth thing that I mentioned at the start of the post. Basically when I chop onions, I tend to burst into tears, so Tracie said that I should pop a cold spoon into my mouth while I’m doing it. Success, no crying – though I looked a bit silly, I’m happy to find a method that works.

Some cheeses worth tasting if you haven’t already:

  • Crozier Blue (http://www.cashelblue.com/our-cheese/crozier-blue/): A lot of people know the more famous Cashel Blue, but its younger sibling is well worth tasting. It’s the only blue cheese made from sheep’s milk in Ireland.
  • Comté: a French cheese made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. With over 40,000 tonnes produced annually, it has a wonderfully strong but sweet taste. I usually get mine from Sheridans Cheesemongers.
  • Tomme de Savoie: Made in the French Alps, it’s a mild, semi-firm cow’s milk cheese and it’s super with crackers – although I love eating them it on its own. A lovely alternative to the simple brie or Camembert.
  • Durrus: An Irish Farmhouse Cheese made from raw milk using traditional methods in the valley of Coomkeen, on the Sheep’s Head peninsula, West Cork.

Ballymaloe Day 67: Here’s to Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau!

The icing sugar began to go brown and then turned a shade of black – like a hawk I gazed into the dark pit of the oven with my fingers crossed behind my chef whites.

You’re probably sick of me talking about my tiredness for the past few days but it’s actually become part of life here at Ballymaloe.

It’s so hard to believe that 67 days have already gone by, and how much we’ve learned. We’re constantly learning – there are days when you feel like you’re useless in the kitchen and then others when you feel over the moon.

Today was an amusing one to say the least and it all started with having to hand in our final menu to Pam.

Last night I had to rewrite my ingredients list three times due to me being silly, and I was glad when I was able to part with my sheets of paper. With a ream of things on my list, I have just hope that it’ll go well and I won’t mess up elements of my dishes.

On the menu today I was working on puff pastry, brioche and French onion soup, which doesn’t sound like a lot but the prep work is immense.

Brioche takes two days to do here and with determination that I would get today’s batch nice and brown and actually look like brioche (unlike my first feeble attempt), I lept into action.

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(My double “s” brioche)

With the mandolin being my best friend, my soup was on and ready to carmelise with keen supervision from watchful eyes (over a kilo of onions by the way!)

Time was flying by and before I knew it, I was getting close to lunch time with no pastry to show for my Gateau Pithivier.

With the kind help and encouragement from my teacher Tracie (as they say, she’s a “ledgeball”), she steered me on the path of completion.

Finally, after feeling like Kitchen 1 would end up being for the rest of my life, I made it out and into demo and slouched into my seat – my legs ached, my back hurt, but I was happy with how things eventually managed to pull themselves together.

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(My mini-brioches)

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(My gateau filled with almonds, looks not as appealing here but was pretty tasty!)

We had the wonderful Emer as our demo maestro day and with expertise and precision she was like a bullet going through all the dishes. I really enjoy how she brings things together and her plating, though sometimes simple can be so elegant.

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Serving up roast pork and crackling, I nearly died with excitement – I’m a sucker for dishes like this and was pumped for tasting (by the way, it was divine).

But wait! Didn’t you come here for news about Beaujolais Nouveau? Don’t worry, I’m getting there!

This evening as a special treat, Colm McCan brought in bottles for us to taste and try in celebration of Beaujolais season.

For those who don’t know, Beaujolais Nouveau is only released once a year on the 3rd Thursday each November. It’s a red wine made from Gamay grapes and is produced in the Beaujolais region of France.

The reason it’s so popular is that it’s fermented for just a few weeks before being released for sale with people racing to get bottles around the globe. They’re like collectors’ items.

The tasting was made even more special because we had a bottle of Pimae Muscadet Nouveau which has never been in Ireland before – Yipee!

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(Reads: Don’t open before Thursday the 20th November)

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(My wine bottle collection – good memories attached to all!)

Tomorrow will see me having a super busy Friday, with a Mediterranean Fish Soup and Rouille on the go, as well as roast pork with crackling and spiced aubergines.

Bonne nuit!

Some random things I learned today:

  • Always score the pork loin/belly/meat the way you’re going to carve it. Makes it much easier to deal with when it’s out of the oven.
  • Key to scallops? Cook on a non-stick pan that has to be super hot. No need for oil and don’t touch it when it goes on the pan, move it and it sticks (they just need a minute). You only need to turn it once and on the turn it should only take about 30 seconds.
  • When cooking pork, don’t cover it when it comes out of the oven to rest because it’ll get soggy.
  • Clementines are seedless and tangerines are said to have come from Tangier, Morocco. However, mandarins are sometimes used to cover tangerines and clementines.

Ballymaloe Day 66: “We should treat them like diamonds”

“This is nature – I get so happy when I see something beautiful like a Brussel sprout” – Trine Hahnemann.

Time has been moving very strangely here in Ballymaloe. There are days when hours whizz by and others when time stands still.

The past few nights I’ve been waking at crazy hours, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m anxious or just restless – But enough worry, let’s get on with what happened this Wednesday!

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Today we had a wonderful guest lecture from Trine Hahnemann (pictured above) who came in to demo Scandinavian/Nordic cuisine.

For those who don’t know, Trine is a Danish chef and food writer, who is exceptionally knowledgeable when it comes to talking about and demoing food from her country.

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(Fillet of plaice with shrimps and basil dressing)

She celebrates ingredients and actually values them individually, which made it all the more exciting to watch her work (on talking about vanilla pods she says that because they’re so expensive and do so much that “we should treat them like diamonds”).

Going through many traditional dishes as well as revamping others, she showed us how to make Kringle (a gorgeous yeast dough), pork cheeks with Brussel sprouts and cauliflower mash, as well as other treats.

I can happily say that I was quite stuffed at lunch time.

Darina’s daughter-in-law Penny was on hand with Emer by her side to run us through the principles of fermenting in the afternoon, and with mead, kombucha and kefir on the list, I was looking forward to the demo ahead.

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Before cookery school, I never even imagined how easy it could actually be to do all of these things at home – but now that I’ve them under my knowledge belt, I feel like the world really is my oyster (by the way, if anyone sees me clearing out the kitchen floor in Arnotts, you know what I’m up to).

As a late night session, myself and Sophie headed back into Kitchen 1 to work on our brioche. Fingers crossed it’ll actually work properly this time!

Tonight will be all about writing out my final menu properly, listing out all the ingredients and wine, as well as reasoning my choice of dishes.

Eep.

Some random things I learned today:

  • When rosehips are ripe, they should be soft, tender and sweet if you nibble around the sides. They shouldn’t be hard. They can also be hard to work with but if you freeze them they’re actually much easier to work with.
  • Eating raw elderberries is a bad idea – you’ll end up feeling quite ill.
  • Kefir is basically sugar water that’s fermented whereas Kombucha is sweetened tea that’s fermented.
  • Some pork isn’t too easy to digest, so that’s why sauerkraut goes so well with it – the fermented food aids digestion.
  • Making homemade sausages or salami? You can buy the casings from a company called the Irish Casing Company! http://www.irishcasings.com/

Ballymaloe Day 65: Drink less, but better wine

I swirled the wine in my glass and moved my nose towards the aroma. I’ve come a long way from Sauvignon Blanc.

With the brightness of day sneaking in the window, I was early for stock duty, which is done every morning by two students.

Feeling jittery at the thought of my rather tedious workload, and with sadly no fellow stock partner, I prepared it as quickly as I could so I could get back into Kitchen 1 and start the day.

As well as the Ballymaloe Buffet to get to grips with, I also had part two of my brioche to complete and also puff pastry to roll out.

Feeling good about my dough, and admiring its golden-yellow tinge, I got to work on rolling it out into brioche balls and into their moulds (which included a rather fetching “s” shape loaf).

Leaving them to rise, I began my puff pastry which gave me the joy of bashing the brains out of a slab of butter, as well as rolling to my heart’s content.

After what seemed like hours and included an amusing mishap with my Cumberland Sauce – don’t worry, it tastes fine; it’s more an “Úna Sauce” – I finally got around to plating up.

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(My brioche after it had risen for a decade)

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(My devilled eggs are in the middle, I mixed them with wasabi)

I ended up being annoyed with the finish product (my “s” loaf was particularly cranky); they simply didn’t brown or taste as briochy as I would like, I was determined to find some way of trying it again.

Tucking into lunch (which included ox tongue – delicious!), I was feeling like worn-out ragdoll that needed to get some shut eye.

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(Pat slicing up the ox tongue – it actually tastes of corned beef)

With 62 tired faces to be seen, it was understandable that we were all feeling quite restless when it came to demo.

At the beginning of demo, Emer came in to chat to us about the final examinations and what our practical entailed.

My mind immediately jumped to the mountains of information that has been swirling around my head. Sometimes I wish I could just shove the worry to one side.

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(Rachel demonstrating how to do a butcher’s knot)

Despite our drained bodies, our energy levels took a dip upwards upon the wine lecture at 6pm!

Sadly, today saw our final wine lecture with sommelier-extraordinaire Colm, who was on top form as always.

With Riedel glasses in hand, we sipped on our wine and had a quick crash-revision course for the impending wine exam next week.

Though a bit sketchy on a few of the details, I was happy that I had already read over everything he went through – the hope is that I can retain it all because I absolutely want to.

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Throughout this course, I’ve found myself embracing so many styles, aromas and tastes that I never thought I could like. It’s like food, it’s an adventure. Cheers!

Tonight I’m battling between the decision to writing out my order of work for my final menu or writing out my order of work for Thursday.

Some random things I revised today:

  • The characteristic flavours of…
    Muscat – Actually tastes like grapes
    Sauvignon Blanc – Citrus fruits
    Pinot Noir – Red fruits
    Merlot – Plum
  • Wine is made by yeast converting the natural sugars in the grape to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  • Chablis HAS to be made from Chardonnay grapes, so if you like Chablis and say you don’t like Chardonnay, well, you’re in for a surprise!
  • Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley are made from Sauvignon Blanc (Pouilly-Fumé not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuissé which is made from Chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy)
  • Beaujolais Nouveau is made by carbonic maceration (whole bunch fermentation), and the new wine is released on the third week of November – it’s a wine that you should consume immediately and not hide in your wine cellar).
  • White Burgundy is made from Chardonnay.
  • Rosé is made by having the juice in contact with the grape skins for a short time.