Tag Archives: Ballymaloe

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

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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 77: Just one day left in the kitchen…

With only five hours sleep last night, I woke up with a cranky feeling.

Wandering around at 8am to unlock our bedroom door I woozily staggered back to bed for an extra hour.

Thankfully today was all about Mammy Kavanagh’s visit and with an hour of study under my belt, I was glad to get out of campus for a while and head away.

With a refreshed feeling and a lot of yummy food under my belt, I came back with a full tummy.

Back at home, I’m in a non-studying feeling but know that I need to hit the books and get some sort of knowledge into my head (I had a lot of fun learning about cheese though)

Tomorrow is my final day in the kitchen and I’ll be rustling up a lamb tagine with couscous Then it’s down to exams, exams, exams. Wish me luck?

Some random things I learned today:

  • Many cheese now carry an Appellation d’Origine or sometimes they’re stamped on the rind of the cheese with the country eg. Parmigiano Reggiano (Italy)
  • When buying cheese, buy a freshly cut piece of cheese rather than a pre-packed section – the cheese should be cut cleanly with a wire or a special cheese knife and wrapped in cheese paper or greaseproof paper – not clingfilm!
  • Generally speaking, the stronger the cheese smells the riper it is.
  • Farmhouse cheeses quite often grow a mould on the skin or rind. This is perfectly harmless and can be brushed or washed off if you choose.
  • Cheeses can be divided into five groups:
    • Very soft: soft cheese, uncooked and unripened eg. cottage cheese, fromage frais and quark.
    • Soft: soft, spreadable cheese eg. Brie and Camembert.
    • Semi-soft: Firmer cheese that’s often crumbly eg. gorgonzola, Cashel Blue, Gubbeen.
    • Semi-hard: The largest cheese family and that can be sliced easily eg. Cheddar and Edam.
    • Hard: Cheeses that have been pressed but need to be grated when old eg. Parmesan and Grana Padana.

Ballymaloe Day 75: A day in the leaba

The last thing you want to happen in cookery school is to be sick on one of the final cooking days…

Over the past few days I’ve felt another wave of sickness hitting me. I don’t know whether it’s something I ate, the cold weather or just a thing that’s going around but anyway, to cut a long story short, I’ve been in bed all day.

I woke up this morning feeling very stuffy and then had a tight stiffness in my upper body, along with a massive headache, so combined I was far from feeling 100%.

Heading back to the house, I pulled on my pyjamas, nabbed a hot drink and water bottle and slept the day away. I didn’t rise until about 5.30pm.

Since then I’ve been battling with a headache that just won’t shift, but thankfully I’m stocking up on plenty of vitamin see (I love you oranges), and water. Food is much needed…

Fingers crossed that tomorrow will see an energy boost and less of a chill…

Ballymaloe Day 61: Rare, juicy and full of flavour

My bum hit the seat and I was instantly stuck. I had a food baby and I wasn’t planning on moving anytime soon.

Course after course, wine after wine – Let me tell you about yesterday’s dinner! I briefly mentioned in last night’s post that I was jetting off to Ballymaloe House for a special wine dinner.

Hosted by Colm McCan and Peter Corr, the drinks on the menu last night were personally selected by wine writer John Wilson of the Irish Times.

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First we had a tasting of six wines and it was such a pleasure to be in the presence of someone who knew how to express love for wine and sherry without any snobbery attached to him.

Like Colm, John has a way of sharing his knowledge with such humour.

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(John Wilson’s new book, with a selection of affordable wines that are available in Ireland)

As well as the tasting, there was an opportunity last night to head to Ballymaloe House, and I managed to nab a spot last minute.

Costing €65, the three-course dinner included carefully selected wines for each course, as well as Champagne to start, and sherry and dessert wine to finish. It was pretty special and exceptional value for such a night.

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But back to the present! After making sure that I kept good and hydrated, I headed into the kitchen with that Friday feeling buzzing around.

On the to-do list for the day was a Normandy Pear Tart, as well as a cucumber pickle, smoked seafood platter and a steak (obviously not on the same plate!)

Since a lot of work was to go into the tart, I started on my shortcrust with sheer determination and a hand ready to whisk to my heart’s content.

Over the course I’ve noticed that I seem to have some skill when it comes to making desserts, which is so strange to me because I don’t have a sweet tooth.

Though I messed up a few of the finer details in my dishes, I managed to pull off a 10 (yippee!) for my tart and I was seriously looking forward to lunch where I was to tuck into my massive beast of a steak.

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(My rare/blue steak – yum!)

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(My seafood platter)

Utterly satisfied, I plonked myself back into my seat where I inevitable was stuck to during all of demo.

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(A running joke in the cookery school, keep an eye out for this plate if you ever visit!)

One of fellow students, Karen, was hosting the Irish premiere of her short film “Slice” for Slow Food Cork, and we headed back into the cookery school for an excellent night of entertainment.

For those who don’t know, Karen is a director and a writer, and has worked as a story producer in reality television for the past eight years including shows such as Project Runway, The Bad Girls Club, The Academy, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Starting Over which won a Daytime Emmy.

She is a fabulous person and a more fabulous friend, and it’s a delight to have her on the course.

This weekend is once again all about hitting the notes and finally deciding properly on a final menu. Fingers crossed for me!

Ballymaloe Day 55: Mammy, Midleton and Munchies

After a week of no wine, I treated myself to a glass of French chardonnay last night and slept like a baby.

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(Serving soufflés yesterday)

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(From left to right: My godmother and Mammy!)

Up at 9am to get a few jobs out of the way, I nabbed the hen bucket and bins and wandered down to the dairy to feed the chickens. Brienne (my cheese), was there to greet me, and giving her a gentle turnover, I left her to rest.

Seeing as Mam was down for the weekend, we headed to Midleton market where we met up with a friend who had a gorgeous whippet called Minky!

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Mingling through the crowds, we met up with both fellow students and locals who were enjoying the market sunshine.

After our mini-adventure, we headed over to Ballymaloe House for a spot to eat – I chose to have a ricotta and vegetable tart which was quite lovely, as well as a baked ginger cheesecake.

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It’s worth heading to the house alone to see the grounds and peek inside, and because it was such a crisp but sunny day, it made it all the more enjoyable.

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(The front door of Ballymaloe House)

A short spin later we arrived at Stephen Pearce pottery HQ, that’s tucked away in the Shanagarry.

For those who don’t know, his pottery is famous for its white and brown that’s decorated across bowls, jugs, cups, dishes, lamps and much more. It was great to see where it’s being made, and you would never think that a world-class potter would be hiding away in dark leaves of the Cork countryside.

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To top off the day, Mam came back the cookery school where I handed off a suitcase (my personal chauffeur!), and bid her adieu – it was great to have her company as well as my godmother’s and made for a nice change to the norm.

Tonight is all about decided what menu I want to present for my final exam, and with a few ideas in mind, I’m hoping that it’ll make for a tasty presentation.

Until tomorrow folks, au revoir!

Ballymaloe Day 42: Curry house!

Waking up after a bad dream is never easy, and starting off with a feeling of gloom is not a good start!

Perhaps reflected in the weather, I woke up today in slightly low spirits.

Still in Knockadoon, and slightly confused by the clocks going back, I hauled myself out of bed and forced myself out for some fresh air.

If you haven’t ever been around the Knockadoon area, you’re missing out. Though still murky and misty, it’s such a release to breath in sea air and stare across the horizon.

Feeling restored and with the campers slowly waking up around me, I headed into the kitchen for some prep work.

Serving lunch and a three course dinner, I was pretty psyched about making the most of what I had learned so far in Ballymaloe.

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As the main course today I was on a mission to cook a curry from scratch and I chopped onions and peppers like there was no tomorrow.

Left to my own devices, I sorted out my own system for the mise en place and was ready for the queues of hungry diners ahead!

With help from my sous chef and other half, Pádhraic (see above!), as well as Dearbhail, Orlaith and Seán – we managed to pull off a meal that I was proud of – especially curry as it’s definitely not something I’d usually cook and despite nearly incinerating all of the garlic bread!)

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By the way, I can’t explain to you how hard the leaders work here at Knockadoon and listening to the speeches at the end of the meal was both inspiring and very touching.

Though I was never officially part of the Youth Club in Dundalk or Knockadoon I’m still very grateful at how many of them I can call friends.

Tomorrow I’m rustling up a fry as a farewell meal and then I’m back in Ballymaloe for Week 7!

Until tomorrow – slán!

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Ballymaloe Day 41: Knocking around Knockadoon

Following the highs of getting through exams, I was excited to spend the bank holiday away from campus and somewhere less intense!

And so here I am in Knockadoon camp, cooking and helping feed nearly 60 people – I must have caught kitchen fever.

Situated near Ballymacoda in Cork, Knockadoon Camp hosts weeks of fun for young people during the summer. My other half has been part of the camp for many years and so this weekend the leaders were having a reunion!
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(Knockadooners: Seán, Smiley and Liam in the kitchen)

As a way of making myself useful, I’m here running the kitchen with a team to feed all the hungry campers after their busy schedules and so far it’s been quite the experience.

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It’s no restaurant by any standards but it’s definitely a lot of fun trying to co-ordinate times and prepare your mise en place outside the Ballymaloe Bubble.

So far, I’ve managed to get stung by a wasp on my thumb and made a few soggy waffles (sorry!) but it’s been great to have been given an opportunity like this to help out – I added tomato and coriander salsa, homemade mayonnaise and ketchup to their meals today as well as guacamole and they seemed to enjoy it!

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(Himself and myself)

It’s bizarre really because even though I’ve only been away a day, it feels like I’ve already finished the course.

It’s definitely going to be odd heading back in on Tuesday!

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Ballymaloe Day 40: “How to get a well-browned bottom”

I tossed and turned all night, waking up at stupid hours.

Even though I didn’t feel too nervous about my mid-terms, there was still exam fever in the air.

Last night I had gone through a few techniques to keep them fresh in mind but there were definitely a few that I wasn’t 100% comfortable with.

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“How to get a well-browned bottom”, Rory announced, “on your pizzas obviously”.

To kickstart the day we had a pizza demo with Rory O’Connell where he went through various doughs, toppings and skills.

Ogling the ingredients in front of him, Rory said that he would keep on making pizzas for us today until we said, “no more!” Challenge accepted.

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“Soft, melting, tender, unctuous”, Rory remarked while plating up a slow-roasted shoulder of pork on a pizza, “the perfect piggy”.

By the way, Rory is catering for thousands at the Food Summit this year, which I was invited to but sadly can’t attend!

The Food Summit, which is part of the prestigious Web Summit, is hosted by Good Food Ireland and is the largest ever showcase of Irish food.

“I had to order 275kgs of mozzarella – that’s a lot of balls” he mused of this year’s event.

After checking the list to see who I’m partnered with next week – I’ve the lovely Scotsman, Fraser – we topped off the demo with mountains of pizza, focaccia and strombolli.

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Our herb and salad identification exam started at one, and students were able to head into it at anytime.

My technique exam wasn’t scheduled until 4.10pm this afternoon but to ease my mind I headed in early to get part one over and done with.

We had the lovely Annette as our examiner and I was surprised at how everything in there was so relaxed. I came out of the first exam very happy and hoped that I’d be ok for techniques!

The only two things on the list that I didn’t want to get were choux pastry and caramel sauce because I’d never made the sauce before and pastry is my enemy – guess who got caramel?

Rachel Allen was our examiner and it was quite strange to head into a kitchen where everyone was quiet.

A sense of relief came over me when I was done, but it actually wasn’t bad at all – I think I need a bit more faith in my abilities!

This weekend I’m off to Knockadoon where I’ll be finally reunited with himself.

Some random things I learned today:

– Mushrooms love thyme and onions!
– When roasted, garlic is at its mildest, when chopped/crushed, it’s at its strongest.

Ballymaloe Day 36: “A pan of water to a furious boil”

Muttering mild expletives under my breath, I sliced the apple into thin slivers and placed them onto my tart.

Back in the kitchen for the start of week six, I felt quite drained and my energy levels were far from their peak.

I’m back in Kitchen 2 for the week and though tired, I was excited about making pasta for the first time.

First off and attempting to brush aside my dislike of shortcrust pastry, I set to work at making a base for my carmelised apple tart.

Then hopping onto noodle duty, I gathered my ingredients to make my pasta dough and you know those moments when everything seems to go in slow motion? Well, that happened.

As I slowly added a teeny bit more egg white to bind my dough, the whole lot topped into my big bowl and I stared at it in horror as it turned it a sticky gloop.

Musing at my dilemma, I nabbed Rachel Allen who had been wandering around our kitchen and asked her if she could help me salvage my pasta.

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Saved! Back on track and with help from the expert, I began to knead my mini-gloop into a more acceptable shape and eventually it came together.

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By the way, a side note about Rachel, she is an absolutely lovely, talented and kind person and though we bombard her with questions, she always keeps a cool head and is willing to share what she knows (plus she took my pasta photos!)

Behind time and in the desperate need to get my tart and tartlets in the oven, I abandoned my pasta temporarily and scooted back to my shortcrust.

This is where the cursing came in! Painstakingly peeling and slicing apples, my eyes glared at the big tart and 12 tartlets that sat before me.

Finishing well behind schedule and delighted that things were eventually presentable, it turns out that I was in fact proud of my tarts and the effort I put into it was worth it!

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Skipping back home for a quick change of clothes, I headed into demo hosted by Rachel.

Demonstrating a rather amusingly-written recipe for a beetroot salad by Scotsman Jeremy Lee, Rachel pointed out the humorous way he wrote down his method.

“Bring a pan of water to a furious boil!” he writes, “should chives be at hand, then slice them very thinly in readiness”. Noted!

Admiring the vast array of fabulous dishes in front of our host, we got to taste and I can safely say that it was one of the best tastings we had yet.

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Roast chicken is on the menu tomorrow and I’ll be serving that alongside mushroom a la crème.

Some random things I learned today:

  • One way to check if a chicken is done is to give a little tug on its leg. If you feel like it’s coming off then it’s cooked!
  • You’re not allowed to shoot a hen pheasant during the shooting season, except if it’s on a driven shoot where they add pheasants to the grounds.
  • Jerusalem artichokes brown very quickly after being cut so place them in water and lemon while you cut to keep them clear!
  • Romaine and Cos are the same lettuce and curly parsley has stronger taste than flat.
  • A good recipe will list the ingredients in the order that they are used!
  • Dry chives on a sheet of kitchen paper and they’ll chop for you much more easily.