A Wonderful Cup of Tea

Thursday morning was a welcomed break from the kitchen. This week our lecture day was swapped to Thursday. We had a short morning demonstration with cheese biscuits, meusli, redcurrant jelly and a lesson on 'how to make a wonderful cup of tea.' I'm sure you're all wondering how much can possibly be taught about putting a tea bag into a cup of boiling water. So was I. Apparently, tea bags are only filled with the fannings (or dusts) left over from the tea leaves, while most loose leaf teas are made from whole tea leaves or the plants hand picked buds. So while tea bags offer a convenience factor, you are not getting much in terms of quality. Who knew?! To make a wonderful cup of tea, you first need a wonderful tea pot- add that to the list of kitchenware that I need to purchase when I get home. You start by adding a few tablespoons of boiling water to the pot then swirl the water around to coat the inside of the teapot. After that add two tablespoons of loose leaf tea and fill the teapot with the rest of the boiling water. Use a tea strainer to pour your wonderful tea into a tea cup. You can pour over some mint leaves or sweet geranium leaves for extra flavor and a pretty garnish. I usually add a bit of milk and honey to my tea as well. Enjoy! 

After the short morning demonstration, it was time for our first wine lecture. Finally! You're speaking my language. Our wine teacher is Colm McCan. He is the head sommelier at the Ballymaloe House and was named Ireland's Sommelier of the year last year. In his first lecture he did a short introduction telling us about his background then jumped straight into wine tasting and pouring (tips on that below). He also talked a bit about ordering wine in a restaurant. I have taken two levels of the WSET wine classes which were very informative but also very intense. I really enjoyed Colm's way of teaching and am looking forward to a more lighthearted approach to the subject in the next twelve weeks. After our lecture, we got to taste some wines! Sort of a pre lunch cocktail if you will. We started with a white table wine- Colm suggested always starting with an easy drinking table wine as opposed to a nicer bottle to ease your pallet into drinking wine. He said that the first glass of wine you have will not taste as good as the following wines (NOT for the reason you're all thinking, lushes) because it will be quite harsh on the pallet. This is sort of a 'warm up' wine.  Don't mind if I do! We then tasted two chardonnays- a Chablis from France and a South African chardonnay. Colm had us taste these wines to show how drastically different a grape can taste depending on where it's from. The Chablis is an unoaked chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France. It is a lighter, drier wine with lots of mineral characteristics (and one of my personal faves!). The South African had a strong oak presence which adds some vanilla and toast tones to the wine. This is more similar to the California chardonnays that many people are familiar with. Next time someone tells you they don't like chardonnay- try asking them where the chardonnay they drink comes from and suggest perhaps that they try one from another region to be sure they don't like it- you'll make lots of friends that way :)

After lunch and a short break, it was back to the demo room for our afternoon lecture. Today's lecture was on food hygiene and fire safety in the kitchen. Apparently a lot of exam questions come from this lecture (for good reason) so I tried to pay extra close attention. This lecture was taught by Darina. Her lectures often come out in the forms of stories which are always very interesting and entertaining. She put a big emphasis today on organic food. One of her main points was that when you pay for organic, you're paying for what's not in the food you're buying. A great example of this is meat. She said if we think that the chemicals and living conditions that are going into and affecting the animals we eat aren't going into and affecting our bodies than we are fooling ourselves. The best way to avoid this is to do your research. For example, the poultry classifications cage free and free range are very loose terms. A chicken can be housed in an enclosed area with a small door allowing them to go outside and be considered 'free range.' In this case, a lot of the times the open-air access is usually very small and hard to access so the chickens rarely get there. The label you can trust the most is 'organic' as the chickens must be fed organic matter and must be free range, however, even in this instance it's still important to do your research as there are many loopholes. 

Now THESE are free range chickens- how cute are they?!?!

After the lecture it was time to go prepare for Friday morning back in the kitchen. I am assigned to make bread, raspberry jam and penne with tomatoes, Kabanossi sausage and cream. My preparation includes creating my order of work and studying the recipes. The more I do this the more I realize how important it is to be organized in the kitchen when you're cooking. Every step goes into the order of work. For example, my first job was to make the dough for my bread, however, while my bread is cooking I am going to make the jam, but, I need to use the oven to sterilize my jam jars before my bread goes into the oven, then I need to write into my order of work to check on my bread before I start making my pasta. All this has to be cooked, cleaned and plated in 3 hours with 18 other people sharing a kitchen with you. I'm stressed just typing it! 

I made it through Friday morning with a few hiccups- first being that I had to reboil my jam because it wasn't thick enough. The second being that I forgot to write into my order of work to peel the tomatoes for the pasta (this sounds simple but it's actually a 3 step process). The third hiccup was that my pasta sauce would not reduce so I had to add roux to it. Nonetheless, I was able to finish and plate everything with enough time and my teacher was very happy with my work. Voila!

By the time the afternoon demonstration rolled around we were all exhausted from our first week and so happy to be 3 hours away from the weekend. Most of the demonstrations this week focused on foundational recipes like pastry, stocks, soups, salads. Fridays demo took these foundations and escalated them a bit. We learned how to make white soda bread which is a little more tricky than brown because you aren't baking this in a bread mold. Tomato basil soup- this had the addition of homemade bechamel sauce. Crab was a big focus of the lecture and this was our first introduction to seafood. We also learned how to make strawberry and raspberry ice cream, a few more salads and grilled aubergines. 

We were all very relieved to have made it through our first week and everyone agreed to go celebrate at the Blackbird pub in the nearby fishing town called Ballycotton. This was a short cab ride away. The pub was definitely dominated by Ballymaloe students that night- something that the locals seemed to be used to. On Saturday, I went on a run with my friend Lexi to the beach which is only about two miles away. Surprisingly, a lot of people were swimming. Everyone said the water felt great and wasn't too cold- I'm just going to have to take their word for it.

That afternoon we continued walking around the town of Shanagarry for a bit and got some groceries for the week. The cookery school opens it's doors for pizza and demonstrations every Saturday so we popped into the school for a pizza (this weeks special was bacon, mozzarella and pesto) then went to the store at the cookery school. We bought a couple cheeses to make a cheese plate for our roommates (a blue cheese from Cashel, and a creamier cheese from Tipperary) along with some salami, fruit and veggies from the garden. 

A cheese plate, a bottle of red wine and a movie- that was our perfect Saturday night. On Sunday I woke up and practiced making a wonderful cup of tea and some muesli then caught up on some emails, did some cleaning, went on a run and prepared myself for another week in the kitchen! Tomorrow I'm making tomato coconut soup and strawberry ice cream! Cheers!


Tips/notes for you:

-Tea bags are only filled with the fannings (or dusts) left over from the tea leaves, while most loose leaf teas are made from whole tea leaves or the plants hand picked buds. So while tea bags offer a convenience factor, you are not getting much in terms of quality. 

-When you are tasting wine, you are tasting to see if it is faulty, not if you like it. Wine can be faulty in 2 ways: 1) corked meaning there is a bacterial infection in the wine from an improperly sterilized cork - smells like musty cardboard 2) wine could be oxidized meaning it has had long time contact with air and will smell like vinegar

-Roughly 8% of wines are corked

-Swirl the wine in your glass before smelling it to aerate the wine.

-When tasting wine, make sure to coat your mouth with the wine so that it hits all of your senses. You are looking for bitterness, sweetness and acidity. If you can, suck in some air while tasting to let the wine open up a bit in your mouth (this may take some practice). 

-Honey- the best honey for you is the most local raw honey you can find. Your local honey contains pollen and immune stimulating properties specific to your area so it can help fight season allergies and help you adapt to your environment. 

-Crab claws are incredibly inhumane. The process for attaining crab claws is that crabs are lifted out of the water, the claws are pulled off, then the crabs are thrown back into the sea and they die. 

-Always serve cheese at room temperature

-You should not be cooking or storing food with aluminum foil because the aluminum leaches into your food and can compete with calcium levels in the food. There are a couple exceptions if you are storing cold food but it's best to avoid aluminum all together. 

-Peel ginger with a teaspoon


Note- if any of you are feeling stressed about your chicken purchases, crab claw consumption or use of aluminum foil after reading this post, I'm right there with you!