After a rather busy weekend in Dublin I was back in quiet Shanagarry on Sunday night, ready to start my fifth week on the course.
I found myself in kitchen 2 on Monday morning and to tell you the truth it was the kitchen I was dreading the most. It’s the one that always looks the busiest and messiest. It’s probably because many of the dishes are brought from and to this kitchen for the lunchtime service and always where the washing up and cleaning up is done after lunch.
I was excited to be cooking Irish shellfish for the first time ever as part of my ‘assiette de fruits de mer’ (if you want to sound fancy) or ‘plate of Irish shellfish’ if French pronunciation isn’t your best. I had to make homemade mayonnaise with it, perfect for practising, as it is likely to be one of the techniques I’ll have to demonstrate during the mid-term exam. I also made a beetroot and walnut cake that I’m likely to make again at home as it was absolutely delicious and quite unusual. I like vegetable cakes, a delightful way to help you reach your 5 a day.
The day even got better in the afternoon as the theme of the demo was ‘Irresistible breakfasts’. I was quite excited as brekkie is probably my favourite meal of the day (along with brunch). Darina covered lots of scrumptious breakfast items including homemade breads, scones, jams, granola, porridge, eggs in various ways, muffins, pancakes, waffles and of course the glorious Irish breakfast. We even got some proper breakfast kippers and kidneys that I never knew were eaten for breakfast in Ireland. Darina talked about breads and places that serve toast made from sliced pans. She told us that if she were Minister for Health that she would ban the sliced pan.
The next day in the kitchen was great fun as every student had to cook a proper Irish breakfast. It’s funny because I’ve never cooked a full Irish in my house, it’s always Mr. FFID’s job and the only fry up I eat during the year is when we spend Christmas in Mammy FFID’s house. I also made potato fadge (potato bread) which looked rather pathetic but tasted good anyway. We all got to eat early and washed down our food with a glass of bucks fizz, best morning cooking so far!
In the afternoon Rachel demonstrated some beautiful breads, how to make chicken liver pate, homemade noodles, lemon meringue tart and different dishes of pan-grilled fish. I also got to do a fun photo shoot with Michael Kelly from GIY along with Darina Allen and Rachel Allen. I feel so grateful to GIY and Darina for being here and having the opportunity to live this amazing experience.
That evening Mandy my housemate brought some fish home for us to fillet so we all gathered in the kitchen to practise. This is why doing the course is a totally immersive experience, you live with fellow students and you practise or study together.
On Wednesday morning my housemate Mandy and I decided to head to the glasshouse at 7.30 to spend some time studying for our herb and salad leaf exam on week 6. We spent an hour trying to identify the different herbs and leaves as well as asking Haullie the gardener for some clarifications about chickweed, bittercress, landcress and watercress that all seem to look alike when you don’t know much about them. We have a huge bowl filled with lots of different fresh salad leaves in the dining room every day but we really started paying attention as soon as we were given our exam date.
We started the day at 9am with Darina demonstrating brownie recipes (the raspberry cheesecake one was amazing) and she also told us about Gubbeen and Durrus cheese.
It was then time for our third wine lecture of the course with Colm Mc Cann. It was my favourite one so far as I thought he explained particularly well the process for making champagne and went through the main French wine regions and varieties in a very approachable way. We got to taste five wines in a short period of time which meant that by lunchtime I was a bit tipsy and didn’t realise I was on supervisor duty as it wasn’t written on my duty rota sheet. Thankfully one of the teachers reminded me.
We spent the afternoon learning about fermented food and its health benefits from Penny Allen (Darina’s daughter in law) who showed us how to make sauerkraut, kimchi, water kiefer, kombucha, etc…
On Thursday morning I was in the kitchen early again as I was on bread duty. I had the feeling I had too many things on my order of work and I was right. I had to make homemade noodles which I really enjoyed as it was my first time ever making pasta. It takes time but it’s so rewarding and delicious eaten just with fresh herbs.
I also had to cook a seabass, which meant filleting it. I got so flustered as my teacher was giving out to me for being slow, which resulted in me cutting my finger while panicking. Fortunately I had fellow student and Dutch woman, Marieke next to me who seemed to be a pro at filleting and she was lovely enough to help me as she saw I was struggling. Unfortunately I didn't have time left to make chicken liver pate after that.
The afternoon demo was mostly about how to fillet a flat fish and make goujons as well as how to cook rabbit. I learnt that Darina Allen was an au pair in France when she was young and that the family she was staying with had rabbits that they ate. I didn’t have rabbits in my house but remember vividly my dad getting some from someone he knew and having to kill it, skin it, gut it and cook it. Sometimes on Saturday mornings while I was having breakfast of croissant and hot chocolate, my dad would be in front of me jointing a poor little bunny.
On Friday morning I started the day bright and early once more as I was on salad duty. I was delighted to get to visit the glasshouse again as it is the best way to study. As usual, Friday was a bit tougher than the other days as the tiredness from the week starts to take hold. I made a date tart which was useful, as making shortcrust pastry and lining is one of the techniques we have to know for the exam.
I also made Ottolenghi’s puréed beetroot with yogurt and goat cheese. This is the kind of food I love making at home so I was very happy.
On Friday afternoon we all looked wrecked listening to Darina and I think she noticed it. However, the food she made was totally up my street and I was looking forward to tasting it at the end.
With focaccia breads, recipes using scallops, tagines, dishes with North African influences and orange tuiles just to name a few, we ended the week on some seriously tasty notes.
It’s hard to think that in a week’s time I’ll be taking the exam and will be half way through the course already. It’s flying!
“Charge more and be the best” – Darina Allen
“Everything in Bordeaux is a chateau, even a shed at the back of the chateau” – Colm Mc Can.
All pictures taken with an iPhone 4s