Thursday, 21 May 2009

Week 5 - Day in the life of a Ballymaloe 12 week cookery course student

When I talk to my friends the first question most of them have is what I do all day long, I doubt from my words its all that easy to get a picture of how the days fly by here so heres an account of my day yesterday in photos.

Days in Ballymaloe are fairly long. I'm normally up at around 6 to get out for a run and then back at 7 to shower, grab breakfast and head off to school. I have never been able to go without breakfast, even if its only a coffee and banana while I cram for the day ahead.

Over the past week I have been feeding my sourdough starter and on Wednesday night I finally got to start and knead the bread so my most exciting bit of yesterday was seeing my risen dough when I got up. Sourdough takes a long time to make but is completely magical when you see your dough rise without the use of anything other than the natural yeast you have harnessed from your kitchen (and yep I laughed when this was said to me initially too)

The weather has been completely unpredictable for the last few weeks but most mornings I have walked to school which is such a massive change from sitting for half an hour on the M50 that I cant even complain too much when I get caught in a shower. Theres me in the mirror outside the farm between my house and the school

4 mornings a week we are in the kitchens cooking the food that was demonstrated to us the afternoon before. Most people make it in for around 8:30 when we start weighing ingredients for that mornings cooking. The students are divided out between 4 different kitchens and we move stations, sometimes kitchen and change cooking partner every week. There is one teacher to every six of us in the kitchen who keeps an eye on how we are getting on and marks us at the end of the morning.

Being in the kitchen is definitely my favourite bit of the course, that and trying to recreate the masterpieces demonstrated the afternoon before. However the kitchen can be completely chaotic at times between the arguments over ovens (and lack thereof) and the panic some people get into when they are having problems with whatever they are making. Typically between each team of 2 we make a starter, main, side vegetable dish and dessert. There is also a long list of techniques we have to master which we try to squeeze in aswell when we have time - techniques inlcude a list of 8 or so breads, filleting flat and round fish, knife skills and making cottage cheese, caramel, pastries, meringues among others.

Yesterday I made caramel eclairs, a provencale bean stew and filleted a flat fish. We present the foods to the teachers at 11:30 with the goal of then sitting down to eat by 12. Mostly we are doing well if we are eating by 12:30

The teachers taste and mark (out of 6) everything we make before it goes out for lunch. For the first few weeks I assumed this was part of an ongoing assesment but apparently its only in case you suffer from not being able to remember one thing in an exam situation. Typically between the kitchen we will have made a few different starters, mains and desserts so that everyone has a good choice of dishes. That said, most people here eat everything or are trying to eat everything while here. We have a few coeliacs although I know one of them at least has given up on making coeliac bread despite the fact that she cant eat yeast bread.

Almost every day all students have a duty to do either before, during or at the end of the day. These could be anything from sweeping the floor in the kitchen after cooking, serving desserts for the day and laying tables to feeding the hens. Yesterday I was on dessert duty so had to make sure everyone got an eclair or two including all the guests that come in for lunch.

Depending on how the mornings cooking went we have a nice leisurely lunch or barely get to sit down before going in to watch the demonstration for the afternoon at 2. Every day we have either Darina Allen, Rory O'Connel or Rachel Allen demonstrate the foods we will be cooking the following day. All 64 of us sit in rows watching the everything going on through a massive mirror above the workstation and tvs showing the centre of the counter top.

The demonstration is normally finished by 5 (depending on whether the subject of the benefits of free range organic chickens comes up) and we get to taste the foods to get some idea what our food is meant to taste like the following day. By this time the lists of what each team is cooking the following day is normally up so we divide out the dishes with our cooking partners for the following morning. Thats me in the pink crocs in the front row (theres a first for everything)

Yesterday afternoon my sourdough bread also had its final rise so I stuck it in for baking while we had a wine tasting of Spanish wines. Normally we have wine lectures and tasting as part of our one theory day a week but for some reason this week we had our tasting after class. Wine tasting would definitely be in my top favourite parts of the course if it wasnt for the thoughts of an exam on wine looming in a few weeks time. Unless this exam asks only one question (whether I like a certain wine or not) I suspect I may be screwed.

My sourdough loaves came out beautifully, who would have thought that the above loaves are made only of flour, salt and water?

Then off on my way home through the gardens for a bit of baking in preparation for my weekend and to do my homework.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Week 4 - Cake, cake, more cake - when will it ever end

Cake, pudding, desserts. I would like you to take a few seconds out of your day to consider the torture that Im undergoing here in Ballymaloe at the moment.

For your viewing horror, here are some cakes:

Winter Pudding

Fruit Tart

Lemon Pudding (pure torture)

Chocolate and Roast Hazelnut Tart

Sponge without butter - the horrors

Ballymaloe Chocolate cake

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Week 3 - Hurty finger and a trip to a real kitchen

Week 3 was marked by my constant lying about my hurty finger because not being able to wash your knives without a trip to the local doctor is a bit of an embarrassing excuse week 3 of a cookery course. Its only the odd person who reads this, my hero who brought me in a very girly fainting state to the local clinic and my friends who stayed back to wash the rest of the dishes that know that I didnt get bitten by a shark, have my finger bitten off by a overzealous male model boyfriend or suffer a knitting accident.
Week 3 was also the week I got to go visit Ballymaloe house kitchens (queue more lying about finger), where my cooking partner had to wash all the dishes and where I spent quite some time bashing prawn brains before boiling them, forcing them through a sieve and serving them as lunch.
As my typing index finger is still a bit off, I will leave you with a few pictures of food cooked by real chefy people. No pictures of the shy chefs as they wanted me to contact their agents first off.

Duck Liver Pate with Walnut and Raisin toast (not in picture as I ate it)

Roast Ballycotton Turbot with Watercress, Redcurrant and Shallot butter

Hot buttered Castletownbere Oysters on Toast

Pan-fried Ballycotton John Dory with Scallops and Garden Asparagus (Did I mention that Im never coming home again?)

Caramel Ice cream, served with caramel from the Ballymaloe Dessert Trolley

PS - I didnt cook in Ballymaloe house - just sat around, watched, poked at things and took photos