Little by little the routine seeps in. It was a late evening last night as the adrenalin was flowing fast and free. Can’t blame coffee (as if I ever did!).
|Early morning before it all begins|
Arrival at school was at 8am today. We can get to class early to start getting out all of our stuff and do advance prep. We just can’t begin cooking until our instructor arrives.
|Ok, mine is the big one. But it's also the incorrect one. |
I think the other loaves have a complex!
I was to make “Beginner’s Brown Bread.” Well, I lost something in the translation. All the recipes are given in three calibrations: metric weight, lbs/oz, and cups. Somehow I got too much flour or too much soda… but my batter was practically up to the rim. It looked great baked (high and impressive), but evidently was outside the box (pan) of what it should have been. One trick here is to pop the bread out of the tin, and bake another 10 minutes to dry it off. “Brilliant!” as they say here. You tap the bottom and the top of the loaf until both sound the same.
My other two assignments were potato herb soup and rhubarb strawberry compote. My partner did fork biscuits (cookies), and French onion tart (quiche). Each pair of students has a station in the kitchen with a stove top and all equipment. We are “brown” .. so we have to make sure we use only the brown marked utensils and equipment. We wash as we go along. We have tons of fresh herbs to use, and right now rhubarb.
There are a ton of extra duties besides cooking. People set the dining room and break it down, we clean our stations/range/ovens every single day. We have to take inventory of all of our equipment at the end of each cooking session. Students come in early to make stock. Student stay late to clean up after the demonstration. Students take the scraps down to the chickens, and recycle, and pick the lettuces and the herbs. And all along with us are these fabulous instructors who work from early morning until after we leave with good humor and patience. Most, if not all, are graduates of the program.
The more I see of this place, the more I am impressed with Darina. She is an amazing, brilliant entrepreneur, and a very hard worker. There are so many layers of this empire that I am blown away. She has her finger in every pot and has energy that belies her age. Everyone is on a first name basis here. There are no “yes chef!” affectations. Respect here is borne of hard work and working collegially. Nice atmosphere.
Today my food tasted great .. but my presentation languishes in the 80’s! It’ll come. I have to get comfortable with the routine (which right now is all foreign w/ huge learning curve), and where everything is. Oh yes, and let us not forget my waterloo: knife sharpening. How anything so simple can be so outside of my ability is really startling. But then, why else did God have me marry someone who could sharpen knives?
|Selections today: brown bread, French onion tart, herbed potato soup, cabbage salad.|
A nice day began to break out… but who has time? Demonstrations are in the afternoon. I was feeling it… lower back. But Darina was in charge and started out by showing us a portable incubator with a dozen chicks just hatching. Too cute.
|Darina and the new chicks - look above in the mirror (no, not the assistants!).|
Then she was off and running with THE most incredible to-die-for scones I’ve ever had with her made-on-the-spot-fresher-than-fresh raspberry jam. Be still my heart! She also showed us a new home-jam-sealing innovation: a piece of paper that makes the jam air-tight, and a stretchy piece that again makes it air tight. Brilliant!
|Scones in the middle. Jam in the background. Kumquats in the foreground.|
- Tip: if butter is too hard, grate it into the flour mixture
- Tip: when making jam, heat the sugar in the oven with the jars. The quicker you can make jam the fresher it will taste.
The candied citrus peels came into their zenith today, when they were simmered in simple syrup until translucent. Then sliced, some dipped in chocolate, some diced for garnish. Truly fabulous (they will last a year in the fridge)!
|Citrus peel goodness..|
With all of the “fork biscuits” (cookies) that were made the day previous, Darina showed us a killer dessert fit for a queen using said leftovers. Called Belgian Chocolate Biscuit Cake, it is a “set” mousse with the crunchies of the crumbled cookies within. Ummm. To follow were Chocolate and hazelnut tart, kumquat compote, spicy penne pasta.
- Tip: Cook pasta to the boil for 4 minutes, then cover and turn off the heat for 10 minutes. Drain and put in cold water until service. It will stay perfectly. Reserve pasta water, for it will absolutely keep the pasta from sticking (or unstick that which has already), and add a bit to the final mixture.
- Tip: Take frozen whole tomatoes (from your garden last year) and put in cold water. After half a minute the skins will rub off. You can then slice, dice, whatever.
- Tip: BIG bowls are really useful and needed in the kitchen. Use for: (1) tossing salad before serving or putting in serving bowl. Allows even distribution of dressing and gentle handling. (2) use for mixing quick bread. A shallow wide bowl allows quick mixture of ingredients to prevent forming gluten. (3) Rubbing in butter to the flour. As you rub and lift it high, it helps in getting butter to all the flour. Again, lift hands high while rubbing the butter against your fingers.
- We've also been taught how to use one hand to hold/steady the bowl, and the other hand becomes our "claw" (rigid 5 curled fingers) to mix the ingredients from inside (where liquid has been added), to outside.
Then Rorie O’Connell, Darina’s brother, took center stage to demo four fresh goat cheese salads. He is very good and winsome, and a delightful commentator as he teaches. He told us that Waterford (Ireland) has it’s own sea salt which is practically black (note to self: check it out!). One thing Rory does with his salads is to: “toss with less dressing then you think you’ll need” .. and then take a squeeze bottle with dressing to add a bit more after you have added the composed ingredients (today those ingredients included dates, kumquats, pomegranate seeds, nuts, honey).
|Rory O'Connell assembling salads... a delightful perfectionist!|
- Tip: how to get seeds from Pomegranate: cut in half. Put the half, seed side down in your hand over a bowl, and rap with a wooden spoon. Brilliant!
The treat of each day is to visit the *store* at the school where they sell all manner of wonderfulness: cooking knick knacks, books, condiments made at the school, fresh produce and dairy products form the school.