Sunday, 1 March 2015

Week 8: Steak, Pasta, Veggie Food and a School Tour

Every week is different when you’re doing the course. It all depends on which kitchen you’re in, which dishes you make or even who your teacher or partner is.

On Monday morning it was like stepping into a completely different world as I moved from kitchen 2 to the demo kitchen. The demo kitchen is where one of our lecturers (Rory O’Connell, Darina Allen and Rachel Allen) demonstrates a multitude of dishes every afternoon for over 3 hours. It’s completely different to be cooking there as you only have six students (the other kitchens would have about 18-20 I’d say), so it isn’t nearly as noisy or frantic as the other rooms.

The first day there went well, under the guidance of Tracy, one of my favourite teachers so far. She’s very good at explaining things as well as being funny and patient. As I found myself cooking away in a peaceful atmosphere, I thought we could have done with some music to fill the room a little but I don’t think Darina would agree with me on that one.

I made some shortcrust pastry for my bakewell tart, which was a bit different to the one we usually make and mine happened to be a bit too wet. I really enjoyed making the tart though and when it came out of the oven I was quite happy with the look of it. That morning Rory was passing by and even said that it looked like a nice bakewell tart, I was chuffed! I also had to make a pretty straightforward dish of cauliflower cheese and as it was steak day I got to cook a steak (rare, don’t mind if I do) along with some pommes allumettes. Needless to say I enjoyed lunch that day with steak frites being one of my favourite things in the world.

In the afternoon, Rory’s lecture was mainly about rack of lamb dishes with their accompanying sauces, a few sides and also tarte tatin. When I was in college I used to drive through Lamotte-Beuvron on my way home, a little sleepy town in the Loire Valley where the tarte tatin recipe originated. There are a few different stories on how the tart was created but the one I’ve heard in the Loire Valley was that two sisters whose family name was Tatin and who owned a restaurant in a hotel cooked an apple pie upside down by mistake and that this is how it all started.

On Tuesday morning many of us in the demo kitchen added some baking to our order of work and started making breads, scones and other biscuits. It turned out that this wasn’t a good idea as Pam our teacher wasn’t happy and gave out to us for not waiting for her to see what we were doing. I tried making a stripy cat, a white soda bread with chocolate chips in it but unfortunately it was too dry. I have to practise as many breads as I can over the next few weeks. For the final exam I’ll be given a bread at random to bake, along with my three course meal, all in just three hours. Anyway, the morning’s cooking wasn’t too bad as I made moules Provençales and a roasted rack of lamb with cumin.

For the afternoon demo we had a visit from Gillian Hegarty, head chef at Ballymaloe House, who taught us how to make pasta in different shapes as well as several different pasta based dishes. I loved that demo and Gillian’s energy, she seemed to be really passionate about Italian food. Ever since I made homemade noodles a few weeks back, I can’t stop thinking about getting a pasta machine when I get back to Dublin.

On Wednesday morning after telling us a bit about different blue cheeses and demonstrating freezer and fridge biscuits, Rachel Allen gave us a brilliant demo on vegetarian cooking. You can tell Rachel is used to being on TV, even when she cooks in front of us she has this constant beautiful smile. You know the way she tastes dishes on TV and says “mmm, it’s delicious”? Well she does the exact same in class too and I just find it so charming. Anyway, even though I’m a big meat eater I enjoy cooking vegetarian dishes quite often and one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Plenty More by Ottolenghi is vegetarian-themed. Spices and colourful ingredients are definitely a game changer when cooking meatless dishes and everything Rachel cooked that day was absolutely amazing and packed full of flavours. Lunch that day was possibly my favourite since the start of the course!

After lunch our wine lecture focused on natural, organic and biodynamic wines. Pascal Rossignol, wine retailer and wine merchant from Le Caveau in Kilkenny gave us a presentation and tasting. I actually interviewed Pascal who is originally from Burgundy in France a few years ago for the blog so have a little read if you’d like to know more about his background.

On Thursday morning we all jumped on a bus, excited to go on our school tour with the ever fabulous Darina Allen. Our first stop was the Mahon Point Farmers market that takes place every Thursday in the Mahon Point Shopping centre car park.

Darina told us how a visit to a farmers market in San Francisco in the nineties inspired her to launch the first farmers market in Ireland on the Coal Quay in Cork in 1996. This is the reason why Darina Allen is so inspirational, she has brilliant ideas and has the drive to make them happen, she really is a food hero. Mahon Point market is actually run by Darina’s son-in-law Rupert Hugh-Jones, it has lots of stalls and apparently a big waiting list of people who want to have a spot there.

 The range of stalls is quite diverse and you can find many things from cheese to cakes, from vegetables to fish and there are some fabulous food producers like Arbutus Bakery, Green Saffron and O’Connail chocolate just to name a few. 

I ate a delicious raclette from the Boeuf a la Lolo stall, which is ran by a French man. Several of my fellow classmates loved his steak sandwich. 

I also tasted the macarons from Treats Petite, which were amazing. Not only did they look perfect but the texture and flavours are unbelievable, definitely the best macarons I’ve had in Ireland.

After the market we headed to Durrus cheesefarm, one of the first farmhouse Irish cheeses to be made in the eighties along with Gubbeen and Milleens. 

We also stopped in Good Things café to listen to Carmel Somers telling us about how she got started. We then had a talk from another Irish food hero, food writer John Mc Kenna who lives nearby and just happened to be there to give something to Darina. 

On our way back to Ballymaloe we stopped at Urru food store, which is owned by Ruth Healy another past student of the course. She told us a bit about her business and how she’s always on the look of new trends or exciting new Irish made products. There is nothing like hearing past student success stories to make you think about your own future and what you’d like to do with the skills gained in Ballymaloe.

It was a bit weird to be back in the kitchen on Friday morning after a two-day break but I was so excited to be making pasta. I started the morning by baking a walnut cake for which I had to make an American frosting. I wasn’t quick enough at icing the cake and it didn’t end up with a nice glossy look as it should have as the frosting started to set too quickly. Eimear, my teacher that morning was very understanding and said that I just need some more practise.
Nevermind, my little pleasure that day was the making of fettucine alfredo and I was delighted to be able to bring some of my homemade pasta with me to enjoy at home.

The week ended with Rachel’s demo, which had a strong Indian theme to it. She covered several Indian dishes and desserts. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to India a few years ago and it’s one of my favourite countries in the world, their cuisine is flavoursome and real Indian food is just so good. Some of my best memories from there are food related (as usual)… I still can hear the men in the early morning on the trains shouting ‘Omelette’ and selling them for breakfast to passengers. I vividly remember people making chai tea on the side walk of busy streets or frying samoussas in huge pans. Mr FFID and I did a camel safari in Rajhastan’s Thar desert and I remember our guide making chapatis in front of us at every meal in the middle of the desert.

Once again we covered so many different things this week and I just can’t believe I only have four weeks left on the course. I find myself thinking about the exams and post-Ballymaloe life a lot. I decided to travel to Dublin for the weekend to take a little break from the Ballymaloe bubble. Weirdly enough I haven’t been homesick at all, being so busy all the time. Even so, home is where Mr. FFID is and I was delighted to get back to him and my beloved Dublin city for two days.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Afternoon tea with a view: The Cliff House, Ardmore, Co. Waterford

“Is that it?”…
“No, that’s a big house!”…

My housemate and I were driving through the quiet streets of Ardmore and found ourselves at the bottom of the hill, not sure if we were going the right direction.

Expecting a big flashy hotel, we were surprised to see the understated Cliff House Hotel discreetly nested on the cliff.

Yet this luxurious hotel feels contemporary, with the outside made of dark granite stones. Once inside, the lobby is bright with big windows overlooking Ardmore Bay and little touches such as lamps and mirrors frames made with sea shells.

Afternoon tea takes place in the House restaurant on Sundays from 2 to 5pm at a price of €35 per person. However, it’s not on every single week so check dates on their website first.

We arrived earlier than our booking but were welcomed and brought to our table straight away. We were seated in the function room (just adjacent to the main room) with a beautiful fire place and chandelier. Our table was by the window, from where we had the most stunning view over the sea. Such a peaceful setting for an afternoon tea, we were very pleased and eagerly awaited our treats.

We were told that the price included a glass of prosecco and were shown the tea menu that features a great selection.

Soon after, two stands were placed on our table, one for savoury bites and the other full of small pastries and buttermilk scones with raspberry jam, lemon curd in smalls jars, with a bit of cream on the side.

The organic salmon finger sandwich was served with gem lettuce, horseradish sauce and cucumber. It was probably the least exciting part of the meal but still good. 

Next up was a thick fennel bread filled with a cray fish salad, which was tastier and more substantial. A small Waterford blaa (the famous little bread roll from Waterford) was lovely with some delicious corned beef and a leek mayonnaise. 

The highlight for me was the melted Milleens cheese on walnut bread with some pumpkin relish. The flavours worked so well together and the topping to bread ratio was just perfect.

The cakes were all very sweet but small enough so as not to feel like too much. My highlight was the fool, presented in a verrine with a thin chocolate disc on top: the vanilla crème was light and matched brilliantly with the rhubarb. 

The lemon verbena cake had a zingy glaze and lovely green colour. The dark chocolate cake had an almost fudgy consistency with a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate glaze on top. Unfortunately the millionaire square wasn’t too remarkable in comparison to the rest. I loved the pistachio muffin, which came with some orange curd hidden in the middle, topped with a rosewater flavoured soft meringue.

Having tried a few afternoon teas in Dublin, the one served at the Cliff House Hotel is definitely very good value both in terms of food and service. I honestly doubt it’s possible to find an afternoon tea in Ireland with a better view.

I’ll certainly be back to try Martijn Kajuiter’s Michelin starred food some evening for what I’m sure must be a stellar dining experience.

The Cliff House Hotel
Middle Road
co. Waterford