Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Road Trip up the West Coast of Ireland

Ever been on a road trip with a campervan?  This was my first time on such an adventure and I found it quite interesting that you can do so much in such a small space.  The Campervan slept 4 so we packed a tent in too in case there were no Bed and Breakfasts nearby.
We started off heading towards Cork and then out to Limerick and on to Ennis where we stopped for dinner at a pub, and then on too Carragholt where Nic and Mike found a BnB and the rest of us slept in the van.  After breakfast (pictured) we drove on to Loophead lighthouse and went for a walk, the sun was out and it was very pleasant despite the wind.

Next was a drive through the Burren - a sort of vast rocky land that seems a little desolate because there aren't any trees growing around, and then on to find some amazing cliffs where we could see out to the Aran Islands...
Loophead lighthouse

The view out to the Aran Islands only seen on a clear day

Gorgeous walk along the Cliffs of Moher
Onward then to Ballyvaughn Bay where we had a lovely salad for dinner and set up the tent for me as Nic, Mike, Robyn and Darren all slept in the campervan.  It was a great arrangement and although I was warm enough I hardly slept due to strange and unfamiliar noises on the bay and the feeling that I was about to be ambushed by a crazy old man living in the abandoned house nearby!!

I was not attacked that night however, and woke to a beautiful sunny morning and a cooked breakfast.  After making it to Galway in time for Mass we walked a little through the city streets of Galway and found a BnB nearby to sleep that night.

Campervan to the right, abandoned house to the left and my tent in the middle!

The spread at breakfast at a Galway cafe/restaurant, and yes we ate here!

Dinner that night was fantastic and we all enjoyed our own meals - a plus when we each ordered a different plate as I usually sit there and wish I'd ordered the plate of the person sitting next to me...  We returned to the restaurant in the morning as they did a good breakfast also and great coffee.

We returned home Monday evening and made the most of Nicky and Michael's last night in Ireland.

The Sweets Kitchen

What a happy place the Sweets Kitchen is at the Ballymaloe House!  This kitchen is where all the desserts and sweets for the restaurant are made and JR runs the show with Anne.  I spent three days there 'helping', and learned a lot about sugar and why Ballymaloe House does things the way they do.

Caramel Fudge
Almond Squares
Chocolate Clusters
Chocolate Truffles
Nougat (which you'd love mum!!)
French chocolate cake
Rhubarb Fool
Lemon Tart
Rum Savarin
Gateau Pithiviers
Creme Brulee
Apple Pie
Chocolate mousse souffle
A selection of roulades including:
Lemon meringue
Banana and butterscotch
House-made ice-cream (which uses a gallon of cream) with flavours like:
Praline (sugary crushed up almonds)
and many more!

I got to make fudge which was very simple but involved a lot of stirring towards the end to get that lovely smooth and creamy texture (if you don't stir you get a more granuley texture), the filling for the Lemon Tart, Chocolate Clusters, finish the Banana Butterscotch Roulades and taste-test things like the Rosewater Marshmallow, Nougat and other mixtures.

Banana Butterscotch Roulade

Chocolate mousse souffle
The Sweets trolley loaded up

Bakewell tart

As we use a lot of the produce from the Ballymaloe gardens JR obviously does seasonal dishes and so a lot of the fruit-flavoured things have had rhubarb in them.  We went to the gardens a few times and picked loads, using the correct technique of course (twist and pull!) and prepared it as pictured, you can see the amazing colour for yourself!

I would love to do a few more days in that kitchen and try my hand at some pastry as JR even makes his own puff pastry and there's quite an art to it.  Perhaps late on in the year when there's more fruit available in the garden and so more flavours to use...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

I am a Trolley Dolly

Could I get any cuter?  No?  Hhmmm, so it's not the most flattering uniform but I have indeed been working in the Ballymaloe restaurant as a Trolley Dolly.  My job entails serving delicious desserts and a lovely selection of cheeses to clients eating in-house, as well as the usual cleaning and dishes etc.  It's easy and enjoyable and I've met some great co-workers, everyone seems to get along.

To give you an idea of some of the desserts we serve, I've included a few pictures.

The first is a 'Delice au Cassis', which translates to Blueberry Delicious!  It's a tangy berry mouse dessert with berry jelly.  The second is a classic Bakewell Tart.  Treats like are made all day in the Sweets Kitchen at Ballymaloe and left out to be loaded onto a dessert trolley, which I would then take out to certain tables ready for them.  This is after the cheese course of course.  Most people chose only one or two things, there are always a selection of about 5 different desserts, all using local ingredients (where possible) and during this season rhubarb has featured in many of them.

My next blog will be about my 3 days in the Sweets Kitchen with the master of sweets JR... stay tuned.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The World of Green Saffron

 Last Thursday I worked at a stall in the markets in Cork.  This stall sold all sorts of delicious-smelling spices for making a wide variety of curries, ready made sauces as well as serving 3 types of curry with rice for lunch, and Bombay potatoes. It was a fantastic experience as not only was I able to learn about what spices go into which curry, I was fortunate enough to be able to check out the other stalls at the market and make a few purchases (after our lunch rush of course!).

Last night Robyn came home with several sachets of different curries, having just been to help one of the owners of Green Saffron with her garden, and so we decided to have Murgh Oudhi (aka Buttered Chicken) for dinner.

The produce used in these spice-mixes are so fresh and fragrant that the end product tastes better than anything you've had.  The sachets come with their own little recipe on the back of the packet and they're easy to follow - we had to blend up the mix with ginger, garlic, onion, lemon zest and juice and yogurt and then let the chicken marinate a while.

The key in a good curry is using the freshest ingredients and authentic recipes.  I never would have thought much of curries to be honest, but after smelling and tasting what was on offer I'm completely converted!


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Did someone say food?

Food-lovers, I know this isn't exactly the season to be getting into food (it's more appropriate to give it up!!) but I will have to offer up a "post" Lenten fast this year!  The following is for my dear family and friends (namely mum, Liz and Helena) who have been inquiring into my Irish diet.
I live with Robyn and Darren Allen, both are interested in food, and Robyn has even done the illustrious 12 week course at the Cookery School... I add this because it means that we eat well.
Most of our food is locally sourced (eg. local honey, local cheese, local organic vegies and some fruit from Ballymaloe gardens, homemade bread -pictured, local yoghurt - Tim's, locally roasted coffee , even local pork!!) and tastes amazing.
I've been sticking to my fruit for breakfast, with a coffee or two (roasted to perfection by the gent in the photo eating dinner with us, Marky-Mark), then lunch has been a variety of things from soups to salads to eggs on toast.
Last year Robyn grew and sold 'salad', and although she's not doing the same this year she incorporates her salad into her meals cooked at home.  And when I say 'salad' I don't mean the usual lettuce salad or even a 'type' of salad that we're used to in Australia.  It's a gorgeous mix of a variety of salad leaves first of all, usually 2 types of rocket (regular and wild), chervil, parsley, marigold petal and a few other things which I've forgotten.  See the picture though and you'll get the idea.  A mouth-full of this has the most amazing flavour!

Of particular note is the cheese pictured, one of Tim's cheddars, and almost all of the dinners that Robyn has cooked so far (delicous sausage, onion and apple hot pot and then in the pictures a wonderful salad with Darren's pork, soft labne and toasted seeds!!).

Tonight (Thursday night) we went to tapas at the Ballymaloe shop cafe and I tried the ribs - so tender and tasty!  Robyn had the roast veg salad and Darren the bean curry - I believe mine was the best :-)

More on food in subsequent posts!!

Cheddar Cheese with Tim Allen

This blog, apart from keeping my family and friends up to date with life in the south of Ireland, serves as a reminder of culinary arts (some long forgotten!).  Todays' lesson was in the art of making cheddar cheese.
Firstly, your utensils must be sterile, we used boiling water and this will suffice.  Secondly, you milk your cow/s and separate the cream from the butter (this part I did not witness and will have to include in a later blog, sorry).  Once you have the milk you wish to use you're ready to go, we had 2 vats - one with 57 litres of full-cream raw milk, the other with 27 litres of skimmed raw milk.
You should be able to see a difference in colour between the full-cream and the skimmed milk vats - the skimmed being the whiter of the two.
Bring the milk to 30 degrees in the vat and add your culture, leave 1 hour.
Next, raise the temperature to 33 degrees and add the rennet (this is the lining of a cows stomach) which will coagulate the milk allowing you to separate the whey from the curds.  Leave for about half an hour, checking that the temperature remains constant and not going above 38 degrees.
Once the milk has set sufficiently you can use a sieve-like tool to cut it, and then break up the curds further with your (clean) hands.  This is done by running your hand through the milky mixture, gently squishing the larger globules of curd, so that the whey runs from them.
The temperature must remain constant in this stage also, and once the curds are firming up nicely you can start to drain the whey.
In a side note, the whey tastes like creamy water, quite delicious really, and can also be used to make ricotta I think!
You then cut up the curds with a special cutting tool till all the whey runs off if you desire a hard cheese as we did, or less so if you desire a softer cheese.
Once the curd is quite firm and whey run off, you can cut up the curd further and add 2% salt and mix well with the cutter.
Our full-cream milk vat made a huge 8.9kilo wheel of cheddar and the smaller vat made 3 moulds of about 750 grams each.
You make the cheese moulds by pressing the cut up curds into the moulds, adding weights and pressing them.  Every 15 minutes for 2 hours you turn the cheeses in their moulds and add more weights, and during this time you will see even more whey run out.
After this 2-hour turning period you leave the cheese overnight, then remove from moulds and place in the fridge.  The smaller moulds take about 4 months to mature, whereas the larger mould will take a year, most likely more!
I tasted the curd with and without the salt and the flavour was interesting - obviously much more flavoursome with the salt added!  Already the cheese had a great taste, what with the milk being of great quality, and all organic.  Read more in 4 months for the final taste test!!

What a beauty!! 8.9kg