Intro to Le Kitchen

A lot of you have requested a picture of me in my chefs uniform and I'm happy to announce, kids, that the wait is finally over. Here's a close up of yours truly- you're welcome. I think it's the shoes that really make the outfit.

The past two days have flown by and I can't believe how busy I've been. I'm completely overwhelmed but in the best way possible. Tuesday was our first real day in the kitchen. There are three kitchens at Ballymaloe so we were all split into the three groups. There are three instructors per kitchen which basically means that there is one instructor for every six people. Did you get all that? We were assigned our instructor and given a tour of the kitchen then got straight to work on knife skills. I've been so excited to perfect my knife skills because it really slows me down when cooking. I also realized I've never really had the right set of knives to work with so my fancy new knife set is already a step in the right direction. 

Our task after knife skills was to repeat the recipes that we learned in the demonstration the day before. I was in charge of the mushroom cream sauce for the pasta. The mushrooms were picked from the garden that morning and were just simple button mushrooms. I unfortunately cannot give you all the recipes but I can post pictures- voila!

We also made a green salad and carrot soup with mint.

After cooking we all sit down together to eat what we had just cooked for lunch. That is the basic daily schedule of the course, aside from our lecture days. Mornings are repeating the previous days demonstration, then we eat, then we observe another demonstration to repeat the next day. We also have various jobs that rotate everyday such as hen feeding, dish washing, cleaning the table, setting the table, butter making, stock making, lemonade making and bread making. So far this week I've fed the hens and dried the dishes so I'm ready for my butter making day to come along. 

That afternoons lecture focused on herbs, salads, potato soup, tarts and fruit compote. Darina talked about the importance of various colors, textures, and flavors in a green salad. The above picture is a good example of this. She also stressed that in the food industry, the difference between profit and loss can be your attitude toward waste. Ballymaloe is an excellent example of this as they literally do not waste so much as an egg white. Everything is either composted, recycled, or used for another recipe. We also focused on tomatoes today- my fave! Darina showed us various dressings to put on the tomatoes, various herbs to mix in and various ways to present the tomatoes but all of them focused on just using what's ripe and in season. Again, if you're using the best ingredients, you will have to do very little to make them taste great. The tarts were all what we would refer to as quiche and they were all better than any quiche I've ever tasted. I think a big part of this is the homemade crust. Darina made it look so easy! She made a quiche Lorraine, french onion tart and mushroom thyme tart. The fruit compote consisted of freshly picked apples and blackberries in a geranium syrup. This is served with whipped cream, ice cream or just with a lovely biscuit (also known as a digestive). The last thing we learned how to make today was pesto. I am a huge pesto fan but I learned today that I've been making it wrong! Some tips I learned from Darina on making pesto:

-Only the basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil should be mixed together in the food processor. The parmesan cheese should be mixed in separately with a spoon.

-When you open a jar of pesto, pour a bit of olive oil over the top before you close the jar. This helps the pesto maintain a better flavor and color.

-Of course, only make pesto when basil is in season! 

Here is a pic of the Queen Bee herself

After the demonstration we got to taste everything. I think my favorite was the quiche Lorraine (of course, the only thing with bacon), and the tomato salad. I survived my first real day of school but the work wasn't over yet. I spent the rest of the night with my roommates organizing our notes into binders (these were provided by the school...don't worry, I'm not nerding out THAT much) and writing our 'orders of work' for the next morning in the kitchen. I'm assigned to make the mushroom thyme tart and the Middle Eastern salad. My first crack at real pastry!

I woke up Wednesday morning around 6:30 to get a run in before heading to the kitchen. It's amazing how much more enjoyable running is when you're looking at the Irish countryside as opposed to a treadmill. Here is the view from my morning run.

We weren't allowed to start cooking until our instructors arrived at 9 but we could come in early to gather our ingredients and prepare everything for our assigned dish. We had 2.5 hours to cook everything and have it ready to be tasted so timing is really of the essence (our 'order of work' sheets were very helpful with this). My instructor, Tracie, started by helping me make the pastry for my tart. The ingredients and the process for the pastry shell seem so simple but it's such an art- one that I am far from perfecting. Here is my precooked pastry shell:

The pastry shell had to set in freezer for a few minutes before putting it in the oven. In the mean time, I prepared the mushroom and thyme mixture. The chopping here really slowed me down as the mushrooms had to be finely chopped. By the time I was done chopping, my pie crust was ready! (yes, it took me about 20 minutes to chop the mushrooms...eek). 

I feel like it looked prettier uncooked. Luckily I'm about to cover it with a delicious cheesy mushroom mixture and if all goes to plan then next time it comes out of the oven it will be in the form of a golden bubbly quiche! Success!

Now that my quiche was done I had to clean up and get started on my Middle Eastern salad- more chopping! Aside from working on my knife skills in general, I really need to work on chopping tomatoes- I basically chopped these into a bowl of tomato mush. Oopsie. Luckily I got a decent grade on both of my dishes, however, my overarching notes were to add more salt. Noted. 

Lecture that afternoon was taught by Darina's brother Rory. The lineup today consisted of some more elaborate tomato salads, Greek salad, pastas, dessert tarts, scones and jams (scones and jams!..insert hand clapping emoji here). The highlights for me were the tomato salad with Irish Buffalo Mozzarella, the spaghetti with zucchini, ricotta, basil and lemon zest, the chocolate and hazelnut tart, and of course, scones and jam. 

The school had also received a delivery of ducks the day before, so after the lecture we were all invited to a plucking party. Sounds like my kind of party! Just kidding. I actually did not attend as I was scheduled to make cheese, however, the curds did not form correctly so cheese making was postponed until next week. We just ate cheese instead. 

I will leave you all with a couple great tips and pictures from the demo. Tomorrow morning starts at 7:30am with my first composting lesson! Cheers! 

Fun facts and tips:

-The bagged lettuces you buy at the grocery store are washed in a chlorine solution that is eighteen times stronger than pool water

-You CAN chop parsley ahead of time and it won't discolor. You CANNOT chop tarragon or basil ahead of time or it will discolor and start to oxidize.

-The easiest way to preserve tomatoes is to freeze them

-The bigger the zucchini the more water it has, therefore, the flavor is diluted; smaller is better/more flavorful

- Pre grated parmesan from the grocery store is made from the worst bits of cheese- buy the real thing and grate yourself!