Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Random ballymaloe learnings this far - week 2

Two weeks in and my head is almost bursting with knowledge, most of which can probably not be posted on the internets for fear of copyright so Ill give you some of the very odd bits I have scribbled down for your foodie amusement
  • Rosemary will only thrive in a house where the woman wears the pants

  • That white bit of the rhubarb that you always cut off is meant to be the sweetest

  • Some of the foreign people on our course think that cats are milked in Ireland

  • Keep an eye on your oven or people will change the temperature and stick something else in

  • You can make a wish on new potatoes

  • Darina gets her nails done for the Late Late show

  • Rhubarb leaves are poisonous to us but not to hens

  • Alcohol levels in wine are rising which is apparently a factor of global warming!

  • If you are sick 20 minutes within eating something its an allergy rather than food poisoning

  • Them knives there they are sharp, do not be thinking about anything other than the knives when washing them or you will end up with stitches

  • The whey from making parmesan cheese is fed to the pigs who produce parma ham

  • Fat in meat holds the toxins - a good enough reason to not eat fat or non organic meats

  • Turmeric is an antiseptic

  • The smaller the potato chips the hotter your oil should be

  • The cross in soda bread is to let out the fairies

Tomorrow Im working for the night (as much as one can with only 9 functioning fingers) in Ballymaloe House. Some day soon I will be putting in a night in Arbutus. At the weekend I will be drinking a lot of wine at a wine tasting workshop and walking the beaches and cliffs. It feels like years, not weeks ago that I was sitting in an office!

The photos are adding up here if you want more of an idea what my day looks like.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Week 1 Ballymaloe

3 days in and oh so glad that I handed in my notice to do this course in Ballymaloe. Theres another 11 and a half long weeks to go but so far its been absolutely brilliant. Intense and slightly crazy but brilliant. My internet access is a bit crap so far so easiest just to list some of the things I have done in the first 3 days and post a few photos. I will get around to more detail over the coming weeks I promise.

  • Tour of Ballymaloe including a trip to see the pigs, hens and greenhouse where I planted some of my own wee spring onions

  • Introduction to all 63 other students. A good mix of people including a bunch of gap year students, 10 or so blokes, quite a few over 50's and a large selection of people in between wondering whether they can do something in the food industry from all sorts of industry including solicitors, doctors, accountants and teachers.

  • Got my knives - all fingers still intact so far

  • Put on my chefs uniform for the first time

  • Got my new lovely house in Cork

  • Attended 3 demonstrations from Darina Allen and her brother Rory O'Connell

  • Had my first morning of cooking in the kitchens which was tested as part of the certificate

  • Signed up to work in the kitchens of Ballymaloe house for a night

  • Signed up to milk a cow early one morning (not sure why)

  • Got into school at 8am to make chicken stock for the classes

  • Had 3 good walks on Garryvoe beach

Tomorrow we have wine and food safety lectures and then one last morning in the kitchen and a demonstration on Mexican food before the weekend. Its all incredibly exhausting and fantastic so far.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Barcelona - a foodie paradise

Two of my top favourite things in life are food and travel and one of my favourite places to visit is Barcelona. A few weeks ago I got the chance to visit again and would really recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good gastronomic break, especially if a bit of warm weather is what youre looking for (and if youre coming from Ireland thats pretty much always a given).

As Im currently in Cork and have left my guidebook and half of everything else in Dublin I wont be able to name all the places I visited but here are a few photos anyway. I recommend wandering around town at about a quarter to nine and if you see somewhere with a queue of Spanish outside its probably a good bet. I also recommend eating the local food, fish is an excellent option, Steak and Chips is what they feed tourists and wont be great.

Tapas 24 is definitely worth a visit, apparently the guy who is head chef here used to work in El Bulli (I may have this story very very wrong but thats what I was told). There was a queue out the door, the tapas were good, the staff were utterly ignorant and as long as you know the Catalan for tripe you cant go too wrong. Really though, yummy tapas (none of which I was able to take a photo off without a good forkful of first) and good wines.

You can however get tapas pretty much everywhere in Barcelona although they arent native to here and I did prefer the ones I got last year in San Sebastian.

One other thing you really have to try is the hot chocolate although its rare enough that the weather is cold enough for you to want to drink semi-solid chocolate. If the weather isnt warm then this will definitely put a smile on your face. (NB. Its not true what they say about the rain in Spain and planes). A cup of this between 2 will do the job unless you havent eaten in 3 weeks.
If you are planning a trip one thing I can definitely recommend for saving your weary feet is to rent a GoCar. This is probably the closest to a noddy car that you will ever drive but is a good way of seeing the city as long as you can handle the constant wolf whistles and bursts of music it emits as you drive down busy streets. You would not want to be easily embarrassed as almost everyone you pass by waves at you. Unlike bus/bike/walking tours where you have to listen to someone tell you and a bunch of others all about a city you get to chose what you want to do and see with this little car even if you decide to go a bit off your original track. It has GPS and a little talking voice that tells you where to go, what you are seeing and places to eat in the area which really allows you to see so much more of a city than you normally might.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Birthday chocolate cupcakes - Easy peasy parties

I came across these cupcakes in Easy Food a while back and have made them a few times since. Providing you have all the ingredients to hand they couldnt be simpler. The first time I made them was for a 21st where they had to be hidden in a press so the birthday girl could get one as they were eaten so fast. Since then I decided that making them as mini-muffins would be better and made them for my birthday. All 45 or so were iced with 30's and hearts (by a kind icing friend who realised it would be wrong for me to make and ice my own birthday cakes).

The good thing about mini muffins is that people dont feel near as guilty about eating them - at my birthday party they were gone before I had a chance to grab one.

I had cause again to make them this week for my dancing class friends as it was my last class before finishing up to go to Ballymaloe and theres a fairly good chance I will bring them out again for my last day at work in a few weeks time.

Chocolate mini muffins (makes 45ish)
  • 100g chocolate chips (I went for 40% cocoa content)
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g light muscavado sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 100ml sour cream
  • 100ml water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 120g chocolate
  • 100ml sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon light muscavado sugar

This couldnt be easier - put all the muffin ingredients apart from the chocolate chips in a big bowl and whisk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and divide between the mini muffin cases (best to oil these with some oil spray or sunflower oil first).

Place in an oven pre-heated to 180c for 15 minutes. Take out and cool before icing

To make the icing heat the chocolate, sour cream and sugar slowly in a saucepan until melted. Chill until firm enough to put on the mini muffins.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Hummus - Easy peasy parties

Some of my friends avoid garlicy things like the plague whereas others go straight for it. This hummus is definitely a recipe for garlic lovers but goes equally well on a bit of baguette at a party as on a pita bread with some cucumber and tomato like I have been having for my supper recently.

Again this could not be simpler if you have a food processor and only takes a few minutes (most of which will be looking for your tin opener)

  • 400g can of chickpeas (this works out at about 270g drained) - you could of course steep and boil chickpeas but I was going for fast and tinned chickpeas were 2 for €2 in the supermarket

  • 3 garlic cloves chopped finely

  • 3 tablespoons tahini paste (finding this in the supermarket can be the most difficult bit)

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • juice of one lemon

  • chill flakes (optional)

Bung the chickpeas, garlic and tahini and blend until smoothish, not too smooth or you will lose all the texture. Add the lemon juice and oil and whizz some more. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Eat with pita bread, baguette or along with some foccacia (only if youre not planning on kissing someone)