Tag Archives: Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School Blog Index

Below is the index for all of my posts while I did the 12-week certificate course in Ballymaloe, feel free to click through to each day.

If you’ve any questions about Ballymaloe you can drop me a comment or an email at unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com

Day 0: Leave your Prada and Gucci behind
Day 1: “This is a wooden spoon!”
Day 2: No soggy bottoms please
Day 3: The need to knead
Day 4: “It’s a moment in a glass”
Day 5: “A mouth like the Jack Lynch tunnel”
Day 6: No rest for the wicked
Day 7: Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
Day 8: Chicken you believe it?
Day 9: “Recipes are good as a guide – they’re not bible”
Day 10: Wine after wine
Day 11: “Meringue waits for nobody!”
Day 12: The day I murdered a meringue
Day 13: It’s oh so quiet
Day 14: Basking in the rebel county
Day 15: “If you ever catch crabs…”
Day 16: “Have some supper darling, before I stab you…
Day 17: “The most expensive thing in a café is an empty chair”
Day 18: “The wetter, the better”
Day 19: “You’re better off putting it on your face”
Day 20: “As long as it’s not my blood, I’m happy”
Day 21: Back on the ranch
Day 22: “Much ado about mutton”
Day 23: “Bred to be grass fed”
Day 24: Roll of thunder, hear my cry
Day 25: “You could knockout the whole of Munster with that!”
Day 26: “Here at Buttermaloe”
Day 27: “Like a badass, filleting”
Day 28: Splish, splash, splosh
Day 29: “Born onto earth”
Day 30: “It’s very good for the soul”
Day 31: “Bigger than the Late Late Toy Show”
Day 32: “The sexist word in food folklore”
Day 33: “Like a fine, cashmere blanket”
Day 34: The English Market
Day 35: Oh sweet cicely!
Day 36: “A pan of water to a furious boil”
Day 37: Full-time forager
Day 38: “Give sherry a chance!”
Day 39: Droopy dill and fun-living fennel
Day 40: “How to get a well-browned bottom”
Day 41: Knocking around Knockadoon
Day 42: Curry house!
Day 43: The joys of adulthood
Day 44: Stuffed to the brim
Day 45: Sweet dreams are made of sourdough
Day 46: “It’s all about the wobble, not the bass”
Day 47: “You’re highly contagious”
Day 48: Is binn béal ina thost
Day 49: You stay classy, Ireland
Day 50: Today my Alfred was born!
Day 51: I may have a sourdough addiction
Day 52: A “toolbox of flavours”
Day 53: Ode to a candied peel
Day 54: The end of week eight
Day 55: Mammy, Midleton and Munchies
Day 56: Sunday morning, no rain pouring
Day 57: Members of the Lost Knives Club
Day 58: Would you like fries with that?
Day 59: The matriarch of Irish food
Day 60: The business of food
Day 61: Rare, juicy and full of flavour
Day 62: On yer bike!
Day 63: Hitting the books
Day 64: Not expensive, just sophisticated
Day 65: Drink less, but better wine
Day 66: “We should treat them like diamonds”
Day 67: Here’s the Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau!
Day 68: Goodbye week ten!
Day 69: A ray of sunshine among cuts of meat
Day 70: The best bottle on the table is always the empty one
Day 71: Dropping like flies
Day 72: Death by meringue part two
Day 73: Úna dreams of sushi
Day 74: At the quack of dawn
Day 75: A day in the leaba
Day 76: Cough and splutter
Day 77: Just one day left in the kitchen…
Day 78: “That absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”
Day 79: “There once was a man that ate a motorcar…”
Day 80: Channeling my inner Florrie!
Day 81: The studious adventures of Úna-Minh Kavanagh
Day 82: The final blogpost
Things you need to know before doing the 12 week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Things you need to know before doing the 12 week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School

So after spending 83 days at Ballymaloe Cookery School, I’ve taken in a phenomenal amount of information and have created things that I never imagined I could do.

On reflection there are definitely things that I think students should know before heading on this intensive journey, so I’ve put together a list of things I think might be of use – without bias.

If you’ve any questions about my experience, feel free to contact me and a pre-warning, this is a lengthy read. Let’s do this:

A car isn’t necessary, but it’s definitely helpful

I didn’t have a car while I was at Ballymaloe, but I can see how you would have gotten so much more freedom if you had one. To get to the shops in Midleton, I was reliant on housemates (who thankfully didn’t mind as long as you chip in for petrol), but if you want to go exploring the surrounding areas or breakaway at the weekend, it’s worth bringing a car if you can.

By the way, petrol is much cheaper to get in Midleton rather than in the local station in Shanagarry.

A single room can be a blessing

Thankfully this didn’t really affect me much because I had an awesome roommate here in Ballymaloe.

Though a bit more expensive, I can see how having your own space just for yourself can be pure bliss. By the way, where I was on campus the walls weren’t exactly sound proof so at times I benefited hugely from having earplugs.

You won’t always get on with everyone on the course.

Because you’ve got people on the course from all backgrounds, the chances are, are that you’re not going to get on with everyone. Like a lot of situations there will be a huge mix of personalities and while you can try to like everyone, some days it can be tough.

The most important thing I found on this course was to not try to fake it and treat people the way you want to be treated – don’t bitch about people and don’t alienate people.

There are people that are prone to gossiping and if that’s your thing, then that’s your thing, but I feel that you’d make way more friends by being a good teammate and a supportive friend. There are some days when a good cup of tea and a chat away from the kitchen can lift the soul.

Doing the extra-curricular activities gives you a richer experience

I had so much fun doing all the extra bits that aren’t strictly compulsory, as well as looking after a baby sourdough starter (wee Alfred), I also got to make my own cheese (howdy Brienne!) and help run to the stall at the farmer’s market.

Though you may not feel like getting up slightly earlier than usual to milk the cows or stay on in the evenings to hear someone do a talk, doing a bit extra is actually worthwhile.

Eat, taste, smell

Even if you know that you don’t like a certain type of food, taste it.

Think about it – what are the chances of you ever having such excellent ingredients at your fingertips? For years I didn’t think I liked walnuts, but as it turns out, a lot of the walnuts we get commercially are pretty rancid anyway. A fresh walnut is to die for. If you’re a picky eater than is it worthwhile even considering the course if you’re not going to embrace the food?

Keep to your rota

Something you’ll experience on the course: Inevitably the same people end of cleaning the dishes and cleaning the house, instead of it potentially becoming a glaring competition in your accommodation, stick to the rota that’s provided.

Same can be said for laundry days, there’s nothing worse than heading to laundry and having no machine available because someone nabbed your slot.

For those coming overseas, your bags will be MUCH heavier going back

I don’t remember this ever being mentioned before the course, but for those who’ve come overseas, bear in mind that you’ll be hauling about four large folders worth of paper back.

Ballymaloe Cookery School can organise costing for shipping but it’s good to know in case you were wondering halfway through the course and need to save cash. Better to plan in advance!

Faking a sick day is not worth it.

Consider how much you’re paying to do the course, then consider how much you’re wasting by not bothering to come in to cook or to demo. It’s not worth it and you may miss hearing some valuable tips and information.

Keep on top of your filing

You’ll understand once you start the course, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep on top of that pile of paper and file things properly. Keep things in folders so that you can find them and don’t worry about anyone else’s filing system. They’re your notes.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I’m one of those people who plays out a scenario in their heads asking “Why? Why didn’t I ask that?”, so let me tell you that it’s up to you to take that leap and just ask. The teachers are there to help you, you’ve paid enough money, so don’t be shy. Even in demo, just raise a hand or call out, the chances are that five other people are wondering the same thing.

Don’t be tempted to talk during demo

Seriously, don’t. If you’re in rows further back the sound travels up through the room and to be frank, annoys the heck out of everyone. There’s plenty of time to have full-blown conversations outside of demo or at the break so bear in mind that other people have paid to do the course too!

Read, read, read

This isn’t stressed to you really until after the halfway point, but I genuinely think that it’s a good idea to start keeping notes on the things you learn from the beginning. You get a starter pack with some information on it and it’s worth flicking through. Whether it be a casual browse-through culinary terms, or gawking at mother-daughter sauces, know that they’ll be in your exams and throughout the 12 week you’ll be getting PLENTY more notes.

That being said too, familiarise yourself with various foods, cuts of meat and fish because that’s the stuff you’re meant to learn in your own time.

Personally, I would have preferred more continuous assessment on each topic rather than a Leaving Cert-esque exam week, but as long as you stay calm, revise on time and keep on top of your notes – you can do as best as you can in it. The exams are not easy by any means, they’re actually surprisingly hard (on this course anyway), but my advice would be to go through notes as early as possible.

Do you need previous cooking experience?

In the FAQ they say “there is no problem if you have no cooking experience whatsoever; this is a cooking school; our job is to teach you”, though I would slightly disagree on the experience point. I came in from a home cook background, only dabbling in my spare time but even my little dabbling helped me forward. In my opinion, I don’t think you can be a complete novice coming to the course, I think it’s worthwhile knowing a teeny bit about cooking or at least have a genuine interest. Why? Well the course is fast, it’s intense, there’s a lot to learn, and you could fall behind. Though of course the teachers do, do an excellent job at helping you along, you have to remember that they’ve six students to look after and it’s not a one-to-one for three hours each day. A little knowledge goes a long way.

You’re going to be exhausted

There are days when you’re probably going to feel angsty and down, but they will pass. But remember the majority of the days are happier days. Normally there’s a certain week when everything seems to a go in a downward spiral but know that there are many students who have gone through what you’re going through. When they say “intensive”, they mean “intensive” but also, incredibly rewarding.

If you put your heart into it, you can have a great time – I certainly did, and I’m glad I took the leap.

For those who have any other specific questions or about my experience, email me at unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com

Ballymaloe Day 82: The final blogpost

Well it’s over, that’s it, c’est fini. 83 posts altogether including day zero – it’s been a roller coaster of a ride.

It’s hard to describe what how I’m feeling about the written exams right now, but the definite overall feeling that’s running through my veins is exhaustion.

I barely slept last night, and with about four hours under my belt, I headed into our final exams willing the day to just fly by – and that it did.

The exams were by no means easy – in fact they were very, very hard. Everyone I talked to today found them difficult and with three papers to get through, our energy levels plummeted quickly.

It’s hard to believe that we had that many things to learn on the course and to say it’s colossal is an understatement.

But that being said – the exams done and hopefully, though I’m not entirely confident, I did well.

Taking some time out to dance around my bedroom with my roommate Maddie, it’s now time to doll ourselves up and get ready for more nosh.

Tonight we’ve our final farewell dinner hosting by all of the teachers and Darina and Rory – so no doubt a fun-filled evening with food and wine is to be had.

Cheers! We did it! Bonne nuit.

If you’ve any questions about my experience here in Ballymaloe, about the course or your plans, feel feel to drop me an email to unaminh[at]gmail[dot]com.

Ballymaloe Day 79: “There once was a man that ate a motorcar…”

Another uneasy night in bed, I woke up barely before demo and hopped over to the cookery school as quickly as I could.

On the menu for lunch today was venison, oysters and quail, and it was great to have a final lecture with Rory.

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(A very small quail!)

Rolling out meat for our beef Carpaccio, Rory told us of a rather intriguing story about a motorcar…

“There once was a man that ate a motorcar – he took it apart and rolled out each piece thinly – it tasted of nothing”, we looked at Rory incredulous, “it’s true! If you roll out your beef too thin it’ll taste of nothing”.

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(“Oh crikey, miliky! We’ve enough caul fat here to enrobe the whole class!” – Rory on battling with caul fat)

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(One of Rory’s beautiful creations – kind-of looks like a dragon)

“It’s an honour to be able to cook here, and to cook for people like you who love food”, I’ll miss his Roryisms!

A standing ovation for Rory for his excellent tutelage and inspirational food, it was time to eat some lunch but not before Darina drew lots for bread.

With my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get foccacia, I was delighted to get a white soda bread from the paper heap!

With a gap before my cook ahead, I went back to the Coach House to change into my chef whites and read through my recipe again.

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Heading into the kitchen for 3pm, I was a bit nervous and butterflies were building up in my tummy but thankfully it all seemed to go well (I’ll only have 14 minutes docked off my time for tomorrow!).

In a good mood, my next plan of action is to write tomorrow’s order of work and make sure I’m comfortable with what I’m doing – I’d reveal to you what I’m doing but I feel like I’d jinx myself.

Wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • If you’re making something like beef consommé, it’s perfectly acceptable to use a chicken stock instead! Bear in mind that beef stock tacks about 8 – 12 hours to make, whereas chicken stock will only take you about two hours.
  • Pork caul is pretty handy if you need to wrap burgers, haunch of venison and game. The fat will soak into the meat and make it extra delicious.
  • A rounded tablespoon is equal to one ounce.
  • A perfect curl of Parmesan may actually indicate that the cheese isn’t fully matured.

Ballymaloe Day 78: “That absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”

The alarm went off at 7.30am, but I didn’t haul myself out of bed until 8am…

After a turbulent night’s sleep, I eventually managed to drag myself out into humanity with my chef whites on and knife bag under my arm.

Though shattered, it was actually a lovely morning in the kitchen, with an air of calm floating around each station. You’d never guess that we had exams starting tomorrow.

On the menu today was a lamb tagine with dates and couscous, along with melted leeks and as I started on my lamb, I found myself once again in that therapeutic trance-state while trimming off the fat.

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The tagine was happily bubbling away in the background and I got to work on my other dishes.

Today also saw us cooking lobster and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad as they went into the pot waving their claws!

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With a breezy morning under my belt and finishing way earlier than my usual self, it was sad to think that this was the last day that we’d be cooking as a group.

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(My lamb tagine – the sauce was rich with dates and spices)

We had the charismatic Rory in with us for demo today, and it was a delight to have him back teaching us for the final hurrah (we thankfully have him tomorrow morning too!).

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Going through an ar-RAY of dishes (see what I did there?), he cooked up sweetbreads, lamb kidneys, chocolate puddings and niblets, as well as cooking ray fish.

By the way, ray and skate love a good tickle and I used to love heading to the aquarium and giving their backs and bellies a rub – this said in all seriousness!

One thing that I’ve definitely learned while here is the value of less is more and focusing in on one thing that could just stop people in their tracks. As Rory puts it; “that absolute slap-across-the-face flavour”.

Home and already comfortably in bed surrounded by notes, I’m prepping for my cook ahead that’s on tomorrow. Basically the cook ahead allows you to prepare anything that might need more time to make like ice cream, panna cotta, pastry and things like that.

Incidentally, tomorrow is also our last demo of the course and it looks like we’re in for a treat – wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • You should store ray or skate separately to other fish because the ammonia in it will release onto your fish.
  • If you use unsalted butter you’ll have a more continental flavour but if you’ve salted butter it reflects more the flavours of these shores.
  • If you’re cooking lobster, you may need to put a weight down on the lid of the saucepan because they, understandably, start to lash out and sometimes try to get out.
  • Sweetbreads apparently taste better when bought during Easter! (Rory cooked ours and they were pretty delicious).
  • Lamb stock is probably the less flavoursome of stocks. If you’re looking to add more flavour it’s better to go for beef or chicken.

Ballymaloe Day 76: Cough and splutter

Carrageen moss as a drink would definitely not be one of my beverages of choice.

Unable to sleep until 3am and then rising at 8am, my body was floating in a wave of drained energy and exhaustion.

Forcing myself up, the house was quiet and I patiently waited for the kettle to boil and give me my morning green tea.

With regular intervals every 45 minutes, I got down to work and attempted to go through the long list of what we needed to know next week in our final written exams.

Coughing and spluttering, I could still feel in the coldness in my chest that wouldn’t seem to shift. In a bid to move it to one side, I headed to the shop for some carrageen moss which is said to help tackle colds.

Now I love seaweed, I could even eat dillisk all day, but drinking carrageen was a massive challenge. The texture is of a gloopy syrup that coats your mouth and you end up trying to wash it away with your tongue (I still have half a cup left).

Still feeling my shoulders aching, I’m looking forward to seeing Mammy Kavanagh tomorrow, who’s coming down for a quick visit and to collect a suitcase worth of stuff.

Keeping it short and sweet, Sunday will be much of the same with showers of paper decorating my kitchen table. Ciao!

Some random things I learned today (in truth the list is much longer than this – I just don’t want to repeat myself – hopefully – while I revise!):

  • When reheating food, a core temperature of 70 degrees Celsius should be reached so that it is safe to eat.
  • Detergents are products that clean and remove grease and food particles but they don’t kill bacteria.
  • Disinfectants are products that reduce the number of bacteria to a safe level.
  • Sterilants are substances that kill all microorganisms both good and bad.
  • Sanitizers are a combined detergent AND disinfectant.
  • How tofu is made in a nutshell: soyabeans are ground with water, cooked and strained and they produce soy milk – then when coagulants are added and heat is applied, it can become tofu (it solidifies the curds!).

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