Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Keep Calm and Cook from Scratch

How our lives and perspective have changed in the past few weeks, as Covid-19 continues to barrel around the globe. Everything has been turned upside down. Suddenly we realise how vulnerable we are, day to day life as we know it can no longer be taken for granted. For many, the realisation of how deskilled we have allowed ourselves to become is a wake-up call - we take for granted that others will provide for our basic needs.


Limiting our social interaction and staying at home can be boring for sure but is probably the surest way to delay and beat this virus and speed up the journey to ‘normal life’ again. Meanwhile, let’s just use this time to catch up on lots of projects that we haven’t been able to reach in our busy lives. 


As far as possible self-isolate at home, you might want to binge watch all those films and TV shows or cook some of those new dishes you’ve been wanting to try… Let’s not fight the containment measures, there is no point in whinging. Let’s just keep calm, stay safe, follow the advice from reputable sources and avoid public places, especially crowded indoor venues.

When one finds oneself in voluntary isolation, who will fix the heating, a burst pipe, the washing machine or dryer, the cooker…?

Many of us are no longer ‘handy’, here’s where DIY skills really come in to their own. If you haven’t already put contingency plans into operation, time for a Plan B and where better than the kitchen.

A slow cooker is a brilliant bit of equipment. A separate electric or gas hob depending on what you already have is another fantastic standby at any time, even during power cuts or breakdowns.

Don’t forget the barbeque, another fantastically versatile bit of equipment that will see you through. I can turn out irresistible pizzas and flat breads on my covered barbeque as well as succulent roasts and grills.

In the current situation, those who can’t cook are feeling extra vulnerable. If Deliveroo stops delivering and the ready meals are scarce or unavailable, what then?




It’s back to basic ingredients and what to do. If you haven’t already done so, stock up your cupboard or larder with nourishing wholesome non-perishable ingredients (see suggested list).

Basic Store Cupboard:

· Porridge

· Potatoes, onions, garlic

· White and brown flour

· Rice

· Tinned tomatoes

· Bread soda

· Eggs

· Salt and freshly ground pepper

· Olive oil / butter

· Honey

· Cannellini beans

· Chickpeas

· Haricot beans

· Tuna

· Salami, chorizo

· Cheddar cheese. ..

Next find a cook book with clearly written basic recipes.


And if you haven’t already got it, buy some basic kitchen kit to make the task easier and more enjoyable.

· A chopping board
· 1 or 2 sharp knives
· 1 loaf tin (12.5cm (5in) x 20cm (8in)
· 1-3 saucepans with lids
· 1 heavy frying pan and egg slice
· A large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon
· 1 slow cooker and or a casserole
· 1 swiss roll tin or roasting tin



Sunday, 29 March 2020

A Sad Farewell...But Not Goodbye

We had a farewell dinner for our 12 week students, a couple of weeks earlier than anticipated, due to Covid-19 restrictions.




Farewell darlings and travel safely and comfortably... cook up a storm and keep in touch... with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School

Friday, 27 March 2020

Forage to Feast

At the end of each twelve week course, our students at Ballymaloe Cookery School put on a pop up dinner as a fundraiser to support the East Cork Slow Food Education Project.

The theme for this one was Forage to Feast: an evening of wild eating to celebrate the vast array of local and wild foods we are lucky enough to have on our doorstep here in East Cork, even in early March.



The evening is a collaboration of the student's talents - cooking, presentation, serving...and even illustrating.



The cafe was set up with evergreens and candles...


The double sided menu was created by @sievesandspoons



And the fun began... guests were greeted with drinks and live music...


The evening started with homemade creamy labneh cheese, served with foraged wild garlic, almonds and honey, fermented crackers and beetroot puree. And a mushroom and fiddlehead fern quiche.



As well as a whole host of ferments and pickles...


This was followed by a rock pool broth of fresh, local hake and shellfish, with sea spinach.

The main course was a locally reared loin of lamb with wild garlic, accompanied by stuffed butternut squash, kale puree, carrots and a rich potato gratin.

Dessert was a fresh, pink rhubarb tart with a vibrant lemon and ginger ice cream. 


And for petit fours we had these magical little woodland meringues, sweet geranium shortbread with crystalised primroses and a rich beetroot and chocolate bake.




If this has whetted your appetite for foraged foods, why not join me at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday 25th April 2020.

Locally foraged foods have been an important part of the menu at Ballymaloe House for over 40 years, and we continue the tradition at the Cookery School. 

This one day course can literally be life changing as it teaches you how to identify and enjoy nature’s treasures: free ingredients that are fresher, tastier and much more nutritious than virtually anything you will ever find in the shops. This course is suitable for professional chefs, home cooks, keen foragers or anyone wanting to learn about sourcing and cooking with wild food for sheer pleasure.
  • How to identify dozens of edible wild plants, flowers, seaweeds and shellfish in season, foraged from hedgerows, fields and the nearest beach. A walk in the countryside will never be the same again. Where you previously saw weeds, you’ll now see something to eat.
  • How to prepare and cook the wild food that’s been gathered, while maintaining the benefits of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that are lacking in so many processed foods. Depending on the season, this could include delicious soups and tasty salads featuring nettles, seaweed, samphire, strand cabbage, wild garlic and purslane...
  • Take a walk with me, an enthusiastic and experienced forager, to search for wild food in the countryside. Before even leaving the front steps of the Cookery School, your eyes will be opened see five edible wild plants, reinforcing how much natural abundance is available to those who know what to look for 
  • Two demonstration sessions, showing how to cook the food you’ve foraged, with overhead mirrors and two monitors showing close-up handiwork. Teachers share a wealth of knowledge through their expert tips and techniques. 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Mother's Day


If ever a celebration was warranted, it’s Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis from Virginia in the US originally initiated the special day to honour her own mother who lost nine of her thirteen children before they reached adulthood. Later, she was deeply saddened and totally disenchanted that the day she intended to devote to mothers became a means of ‘profiteering’ and a ‘Hallmark holiday’, after the company who first released Mother’s Day cards in 1920.


Image result for darina allen with mother

Mother’s Day evokes so many memories chatting to some friends, we agreed that most of us were total pests at some stage during our teens. In later years one looks back with regret for the torment and annoyance we caused our long suffering parents and hopefully we have found the courage and humility and the right moment to tell them how sorry we are for the hoops we put them through. Invariably we don’t remember just how abominable and unreasonable we were until our children are going through the same phase.

Mother’s Day gives us all, young and old, the opportunity to let actions speak louder than words. 




If cooking isn’t your forte, you could treat your Mum to a slap up meal in anything from a ritzy restaurant to the local cafe depending on the finances. If you are broke as well as culinarily challenged, then it’s time to get creative and offer your services. How about a practical ‘gift token’ to wash and valet the car or clean out the fridge?

If you have green fingers, a pledge to weed the flower bed or dig the vegetable patch will be greeted enthusiastically. You might even manage to buy a few fresh herbs to plant into a tub or hanging baskets. An offer to do the washing up every evening for a week, or even once would win you serious brownie points. Most mums loathe ironing with a passion, so that’s definitely another way to show your devotion, if you hate ironing then grit your teeth and cheer yourself up that you are developing life skills – that’s the sort of Mumsie remark that my daughters hate! I am one of the rare people who love ironing but rarely do it.



A homemade card from my eldest daughter, Lydia.

If you have the cash, newspapers, magazines and the internet are bursting with ideas for special Mother’s day gifts over and above the usual cards and flowers – a voucher for a Spa treatment . . . a ticket to her favourite retro gig, a Louis Vuitton bag. . .

And NO I don’t want an expensive tub of anti-aging cream. I’m totally happy with my wrinkles – honourable scars built up over the years. If I could make a wish it would be that all mothers could be released from the beauty industry’s insistance that we must look ‘forever young’. So let go of ‘aging anxiety’ and embrace your natural beauty.

Flamboyant gifts are all very fine but this is a cooking blog, so one of my late Mother’s delicious recipes. How fortunate were we that she loved to cook, this is what memories are made of.



Image result for ballymaloe scones


Mummy's Sweet White Scones

Tender and delicious scones with crunchy sugary tops – one bite transports me back to the kitchen of my childhood.


Makes 18-20 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3inch) cutter

900g (2lb) plain white flour

175g (6oz) butter

3 free-range eggs

A good pinch of salt

50g (2oz) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

450ml (15floz) approx. rich milk to mix


Glaze

Egg Wash (see below)

Crunchy Demerara sugar or coarse granulated sugar for coating the top of the scones


First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Don’t knead but shape just enough to make a round. Roll out to about 2 1/2cm (1inch) thick and cut or stamp into scones.* Put onto a baking sheet – no need to grease. Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one in crunchy Demerara or coarse granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve split in half with homemade jam and a blob of whipped cream or just butter and jam.

Egg Wash

Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

Monday, 16 March 2020

St Patrick's Day

This year I’ll be in Ireland instead of New York for St Patrick's Day, 17th March, and I’m all set to celebrate, right here in Shanagarry. Remember St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland so we’ll have our annual snake hunt around the garden!

Last year at the St Patrick's Day festivities in New York

We’ve got students from all over the world here at present and they too are all determined to enter into the spirit. They’re planning to rummage around in their wardrobes and cases to bedeck themselves in forty shades of green.


To celebrate Lá Fhéile Padraig, both Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School will be illuminated in green as they have been for the past four years to participate in Tourism Ireland's Global Greening Project, a brilliant initiative where iconic buildings around the world are lit up in green to focus attention on Ireland on St Patrick's Day, which in turn promotes tourism and raises awareness of Ireland and all things Irish.

Image result for ballymaloe st patricks day

Sadly there'll be no St Patrick’s Day parades this year because of coronavirus. But staying home we can still celebrate with our loved ones by cooking a feast of our traditional Irish dishes. 
Songs have been sung and poems have been written about champ and colcannon…

Last year, we enjoyed parsley sauce with bacon and cabbage but this time I’m looking forward to a big pot of Irish stew. It’s a wonderfully comforting meal in a pot, beloved by all the family. I often serve it when friends come round for supper and they just love to tuck into a big bowl of stew and have a nostalgic trip down memory lane.


We’d hoped to have the first rhubarb tart of the year on St Patrick’s Day but I was over optimistic, our rhubarb is barely above the ground and it feels like cheating to use the pale pink forced rhubarb from the Yorkshire triangle in the UK where one can literally hear the rhubarb leaves unfurling in the forcing tunnels. Instead, we’ll make our special St Patrick's Day cake, decorated with orange kumquats and tart green wood sorrel leaves (oxalis) which resemble shamrock but are edible. It’s a super cake, really fast to make and fun to share with friends on St Patrick's Day. 


St Patrick’s Day Cake

This cake is very special, it’s super easy to make and is decorated with a lemony icing, kumquats and wood sorrel leaves – green, white and gold, to celebrate our national day!

Serves 8

175g (6oz) soft butter
150g (5oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, preferably free range
175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Lemon Glacé Icing
110g (4oz) icing sugar
finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Decorations
8 pieces of kumquat compote - drained
8 wood sorrel leaves
1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured.  Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Make the Lemon Glacé Icing.
Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl.   Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.
Once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.

To decorate:
Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves.
Serve on a pretty plate.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Ballymaloe Cookery School - The Twelve Week Course

We’re in full swing at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Students from 12 different countries are settling into life in the midst of a working organic farm close to the sea in East Cork. They’ll be with us for three months. 



They’ve just discovered the long sandy strand at Ballynamona, a few brave ones are joining Rachel Allen for early morning swims - BRRRRH! - but they assure us it's super exhilarating. Others get up early to be in the ‘Bread Shed’ by six o' clock to discover the magic of making totally natural sourdough bread, a few others link up with the gardeners at 7:30 to harvest the fresh herbs, veg and salad leaves for the mornings cooking. 


Already we have a few keen foragers, just met a couple of those making their way to the stone boundary wall to pick the fleshy leaves of pennywort to use as a garnish for their starter. They’ve already picked some winter cress, a few dandelion leaves and some chickweed to add to the big bowl of green salad. 


Another couple of eager students have met up with David Cullinane to bring the small herd of Jersey cows in to be milked. Afterwards they’ll separate the thick rich cream from the milk. Some will be served with the lunchtime pudding, its Chocolate and Hazelnut Tart today and they’ll learn how to churn the remainder into homemade butter before coming into the kitchens at 9 o' clock. Others will be feeding the hens and collecting the eggs for the day's cooking ahead.



Just a couple of weeks ago, several of these students had never been ‘up close and personal’ with a cow in their entire lives. They might have had a vague idea that butter came from cream but no idea how the transformation occurred. They are all super excited to learn these almost ‘forgotten skills’. 



Several others have gone to Penny in the Bubble Shed to learn the secret of the water kefir, that wine correspondent John Wilson told his Irish Times readers was “the best I’ve tasted” and its available on a daily basis from The Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop, just outside the village of Shanagarry. 


Even though the weather is still wintery we’ve got lots of seasonal vegetable and fresh herbs.

Already, the fresh green spears of chives are peeping above ground and of course there’s lots of rosemary, sage, thyme and bay, the gutsy perennials that keep on going year round and are particularly good with comforting winter stews and gratins. 



We’ve got an abundance of winter vegetables, still some Brussels sprouts, lots of leeks and of course all the root vegetables, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, gorgeous white turnips, swedes and of course Jerusalem artichokes, the most exciting and nutritious veg of them all.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Food Trends 2020

Gosh March is already here, the weeks have whizzed past while I’ve been researching the latest food trends – what’s hot and what’s not!
It’s never a good idea to follow trends slavishly, but certainly it’s good to know what’s causing excitement and particularly important for those of us in the food business.
Let’s start with movements:
Climate change concerns are fuelling the vegan and plant based craze. Many young people are switching to a plant based diet believing it to be better for the planet and for animals. The global farming community have done themselves no favours, with intensive poultry and pig farming, raising many legitimate animal welfare issues.

Huge sums of research money continue to be invested in the faux meat and faux cheese industry. The fast food industry has also been quick to react. Sales of alternative meat products are growing in double digits.
The Impossible Whopper is now available in 7,000 Burger King locations. More recently, several variations on blended and fusion burgers have been developed with 25% mushrooms to respond to the growing numbers of flexitarians who are opting to eat less meat.
This trend is not going away anytime soon, and the products and recipes are getting better…
The multinational food products corporation Danone, famous for its dairy products has invested 60 million in developing dairy free products.

The rise in health conscious and socially conscious consumers is driving the zero waste and reduced packaging movement.
193 member states of the United Nations have agreed to halve per capita global food waste, at the retail and consumer level, along production and supply chains by 2030”.
Scotland’s aim is even more ambitious, a 35% reduction by 2025.
Intermittent fasting is starting to gain more traction stateside.
Chefs too are eager for us to know that they are into ‘zero waste’ ... lots of catchphrases around this topic like ‘too good to go’.
In a bid to use up leftovers deliciously, Skye Gyngell introduced the now famous Scratch Menu at Spring in London in Autumn 2017 - brilliant value, superb food, pop it on your’ London List’.


Wonky Veg is becoming super cool… Driven by consumer demand, some supermarkets are embracing the idea at last. Socially conscious consumers are taking the local food pledge to spend 50% of their food budget on local food. Lots of new routes to market like Neighbourfood (www.neighbourfoods.ie) and Farmdrop (www.farmdrop.commaking this task easier.
 The demand for organic produce continues to grow in the US – particularly where consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about the effects of glysophate and other pesticides and herbicides on their health.
Apparently, better quality gas station food is a big trend in the US and UK particularly. Can’t say I’ve noticed, but it would be a welcome development at this point in history when so many people buy their food from the same source as the fuel for their cars.
The word sustainable, with its many confusing interpretations continues to be bandied around. However, the term Regenerative Farming – farmers determined to work with nature to rebuild the fertility of the soil and the ecosystem  is now cooler and more meaningful.
Agroforestry and Synthropic Agroforestry are buzz words in farming circles. 
The campaign to ban single use plastic continues to gain traction however the global recycling system appears to be in chaos as more and more countries follow China’s lead and adopt a ‘return to sender’ policy.


The Fermented Food Movement:
The fermented food movement continues to grow… kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass are all main stream products now.
Food to feed the gut biome is well understood and now more conversation about Food to feed the brain which is in essence the same.
In the US where they are even further down the road of desperation there appears to be a realisation that real food is what is needed.
People are desperately seeking REAL food to boost their health... Alleluiah.....!

Google searches on bone broth and collagen reached an all-time high in 2019. This liquid boosts the immune system, strengthens bones and promotes healthy hair and skin.
The Sourdough Bread Revolution continues unabated.
Artisan bakeries are popping up all over the country from Abbeyleix to Tramore with people like you and I queuing around the corner for a decent loaf of slowly fermented sourdough bread that doesn’t cause one to feel bloated or unwell…

Beware, there’s a lot of ‘faux sourdough’ around. If a loaf doesn’t cost at least €4.50, it’s unlikely to be a natural sourdough which takes at least 12 hours to ferment and should only contain flour (preferably organic), salt, water and a natural sourdough starter – no bakers’ yeast or other additives. The 48-72 hour fermented natural sourdough from the Ballymaloe Cookery School Bread Shed has a growing fan base. 
There’s a revolution in the drinks world…
According to Neilsen data, 66% of millennials are making an effort to reduce alcohol intake hence the demand for non-alcoholic drinks is so skyrocketing. All manner of mocktails and floral infused drinks.

Whole Foods are shifting from alcoholic cocktails to mocktails and reporting a 377% rise in kombucha sales. Look out for Makgeolli, a Korean rice liquer. Baijiu also known as Shaojiu, is a distilled Chinese drink made from grain. It too is becoming cool, even in non-Asian countries. Mescal is cooler than Tequila.... 
Look out for Seedlip, one of the first distilled non-alcoholic spirits to the market. Kin Euphoric's ‘all bliss, no booze’ and Curious Elixir's ‘booze free cocktails’. Watch out for more trendy alcohol free bars like The Virgin Mary in Dublin’s Capel Street.
Cold brews and nitro coffee sales have soared, now 50% of Starbucks orders. I’m also loving all the exciting new bitters, artisan beers and ciders.
The success of the natural wine movement continues to baffle as the demand for clean, chemical and pesticide free, biodynamic and natural wines skyrockets. Fans tell us they love the added bonus of no hangover. Organic wines are gaining devotees of whom I’m one. For suppliers, check out Le Caveau Wine Merchants in Kilkenny, leaders in the field.
The ‘free from’ market gains more shelf space in supermarkets and retail outlets and as ultra-processed food becomes less and less nutritious, the supplement market grows exponentially.
A direct consequence of agricultural policy since the 1950’s encouraging farmers to produce maximum food at minimum costs - a disaster in health and socio-economic terms.
All manner of dairy free milks – oat milk, cashew milk, almond milk, soya milk, directly fuelled by the diminishing quality of cows milk. What’s going on?
CBD infused ‘everything’ is big business, snacks, coffee, drinks, even pet food…and growing.
Huge investment into developing healthy snacks with less sugar. Cadbury's Dairy Milk now has a 30% less sugar than before chocolate bar…
Home Meal Kits:
Home meal kits and food delivery business is off the scale, used to be just in US and UK cities but delivery bikes and Uber Eats are a familiar sight to all of us now. Interestingly Uber Eats, who have their finger on the pulse, report that customers are turning to healthier plant based options in droves.
Onto the rest of the world… more chefs are engaging in sustainable practices. Although many more establishments are still ‘talking the talk’ rather than ‘walking the walk’.
Michelin is coming under increasing pressure to factor sustainability and kitchen culture issues into its evaluation system for awarding stars. Chefs continue to spice up food to allay consumer boredom, hyper regional food is a big trend in the US. And of course the food on the plate needs to be Instagrammable, keeps the name out there…
There are signs that the general public are tiring of ‘cheffy wizardry’, more often than not it’s an occasional or ‘once and once only’ experience, fun to tick off the ‘bucket list’ but not the type of food that people want to eat every week or month... a dilemma...
Experiential Dining is one of the hottest new restaurant trends as is more adventurous kids' menus with global flavours. It’s no longer enough to offer vegetarian and gluten free options, we now need dairy free, plant based, vegan and keto options too...

Ingredients…
·       We’ll be hearing more about Reishi mushrooms, which supposedly boost the immune system  fast becoming another superfood.
·       Mushroom coffee – Chaga
·       Foodies are loving the brassica family  roast Brussel sprouts roast cabbage, broccoli…cauliflower in its many delicious incarnations.
·       Peptides, nutritional yeast, food containing gut healthy probiotics.
·       Lotus seeds, add addictive crunchiness.
·       Harissa, the North African chilli spice paste is the new Sriracha.
·       Jerusalem Artichokes – sun-chokes in the US
·       Lard, beef dripping, duck and goose fat are all super cool..
·       Seaweeds are still trending…
·       Squid ink is also having a moment, added to pasta and mayo…
·       Plant based diets are fuelling an interest in lesser known grains, farro, millet, teff, freekah, sorghum, amaranth even pearl barley….The success of the Hodmedod’s enterprise in the UK, who grow a wide range of dried pulses and grains… is a clear indication of the revival of interest in ancient grains and pulses – increasingly being regarded as super foods.
·       The acreage of heirloom wheat, oats and grains is increasing every year as more artisan bakers, mill fresh batches of flour for their sourdough breads, adding extra flavour and nutrients.
·       Pho and Banh mi sandwiches
·       Rapadura sugar
·       Winter tomatoes
·       Yuzu – a tart fruity citrus about the size of a tangerine that originated in China, we’re all loving the bright flavour.
·       Ube – a vivid, purple yam used to create violet coloured ice creams, brownies, macaron, cakes….
·       Pinsa – a Roman version of pizza, a flat bread made with a combination of spelt, rice and wheat flour.
·       Pizzettas – a finger food sized pizza, what’s not to love?
·       Air dried meats, like biltong and jerky and more fermented salami and saussicons.
·       Nashville hot chicken is huge in US.
·       Japanese fluffy soufflé pancakes are all the rage.
·       Savoury porridge with numerous toppings.
·       Dessert hummus…with added chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough…
·       Non dairy spreads - almond butter, cashew butter, macadamia nut butter, gluten free products, psyllium, buckwheat – no palm oil and less sugar.