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I have a new found love in my life. Its rich and creamy and cheesy – polenta! Before Ballymaloe, I had eaten grilled polenta a number of times and always found it delicious but had never attempted to cook polenta in any form and had actually never eaten soft polenta. What a revelation it was to eat it laden with butter and grated parmesan topped with a rich Italian beef stew! Yum!

So when I arrived here, it was one of the first things I put on my grocery list. There is a fabulous little Italian deli a few minutes walk away that sells a myriad Italian products as well as freshly made pasta and sauces to take home for dinner. I popped in one day and picked up a box of instant polenta – very lazy but saves hours of stirring when I am just cooking for two of us!

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Terrible picture, I’m sorry!

As a result of this, I am serving it with everything right now! We love stews and casseroles in our house and also have an addiction to chorizo so when the weather was still chilly a few weeks ago, I put this bad boy together. If you need comfort food, this is what you are looking for! Make up the polenta according to the packet instructions but here is the important part – add butter and grate in plenty of parmesan cheese. Then you can served it laced with whatever you wish or eat it alone if you are so inclined!

Chicken and Chorizo Stew:

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Serves 6-8

  • 1 Whole chicken, jointed into 8 pieces or 8 chicken thighs & drumsticks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 175g streaky bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 175g cured chorizo, cut into slices or chunks
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2-3 tsp sweet, smoked paprika
  • salt, pepper & a pinch sugar
  1. Heat the oil in a deep saucepan or casserole dish.
  2. Add the bacon and fry until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.
  3. Add the chicken pieces to the pan, skin side down to seal. Turn in the pan until sealed on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  4. Add the onion to the pan, fry for a minute or two and then add the garlic. Cover and sweat until the onions are soft.
  5. Add the chorizo and fry until it starts to release its oil. Now add the tomatoes, paprika and a pinch of sugar. Stir well.
  6. Return the chicken and bacon to the pot, cover and cook over a low heat until the chicken is cooked through – approx 30 minutes. You may need to add some water to thin out the sauce from time to time.
  7. Taste and adjust seasoning – be careful as the bacon may be salty!
  8. Serve on top of the polenta, mashed potato or rice – whatever takes your fancy.

 

Exploring Boston

They say moving house, getting married and changing jobs are among the top five most stressful life events an adult can go through. Well we certainly don’t do things by halves in our house. In less than nine months, we have gotten married, left jobs in Ireland and the UK, I returned to study and now we have moved across the Atlantic to Boston, Massachusetts. Sometimes I ask myself are we insane!

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Big yellow school buses like in the movies! All these things are still a novelty!

Brenton arrived in the US back in October and moved to an apartment in Brookline, a suburb of Boston about 2 miles from the centre of of the city. It is a lovely neighbourhood and I am really enjoying getting to know the area. We are lucky enough to live within walking distance of many nice restaurants, cafes and boutiques as well as parks and easy reach of public transport. Coolidge Corner is a buzzing little spot and I even spotted a friend on the shelves of my new favourite bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

Boston itself is the kind of city I enjoy. Its big enough to have all the amenities and buzz of a cosmopolitan metropolis, but is small enough that it still has a neighbourhood feel. It is home to multinational chains but still showcases local producers and “mom and pop” stores.

Boston Public Market:

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This little gem is Boston’s version of Corks English Market, albeit a bit more modern and swanky. It is an indoor marketplace with vendors from farms all over New England pedaling farm to table produce as well as delicious ready to eat lunches and beautiful flowers.

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The vendors I have explored so far have really impressed me. Good quality, organic vegetables and grass fed beef are de-riguer here. Here are just some of my favourite stalls.

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Chestnut Farms is a family run livestock farm just outside of Boston which raises a range of animals for their stall and CSA boxes (More coming on these soon!) We met Kim, who runs the farm with her husband, at Farm Share Fair last week and loved how passionate and engaging she was about her animals and the work they do on the farm. They supply beef, pork and poultry raised to the highest standards at their farmstands, both here at Boston Public Market and their other farmers market stalls.

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Ive already told you about my new meat routine since leaving Buttermaloe. Well now onto salads! Never again will I be buying bags of precut, premixed salads which I am reliably informed are not as healthy as they present themselves to be! Corner Stalk Farm grow a beautiful selection of salads and sell boxes of lettuces with the stalk still on so that they stay fresh for longer. They are the sole reason I am not missing the greens from the Ballymaloe Gardens. The boxes come in three sizes, I plumped for a large salad box for $15 which  almost balked at but the salads lasted two weeks for us and the quality of leaves is beautiful. This will be a regular on my shopping list!

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Reds Best Seafood is a huge fish stall in the market that sources all its fish from a network of local fishermen in the Boston and Cape cod areas from only sustainable fisheries. They provide a service that allows you to identify the fisherman that caught each fish, which to me is how traceable seafood should work! They sell from as many sustainable local fisheries as possible including Martha’s Vineyard Bay Scallops, Wellfleet oysters, Chatham razor clams and other local fisheries.

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Last but not least is Stow Greenhouses, a flower stall that screams colour and smells beautiful. They sell single flower bunches like hydrangeas or a multitude of coloured bouquets. They also offer a subscription serves where you can collect a bouquet every week from their farmstand. Its all grown locally in Massachusetts and each bouquet has is filled with seasonal blooms.

 

So besides shopping, what else have we been up to?

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Last Friday night, I surprised Brenton with tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, the oldest baseball stadium in the US. It is one of those classic Boston experiences that is a necessity when you live in this city and it was great fun, beer, food and lots of loud baseball fans! Thank goodness the Red Sox won, I could imagine raucous scenes if they lost!

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That’s it for now, talk again soon!

XX

E

One of the biggest changes I have been making in our house since I left Ballymaloe is buying a lot less meat but ensuring the meat that we do eat is of the highest quality, organic, grass-fed, the best we can find.

This means a lot more vegetarian food as well as meals that use up leftover chicken and meat. As my husband is a classic Irish male, he usually believes a meal is not complete without meat and therein lies my biggest challenge – how do I make vegetarian meals that he will enjoy. Curries are on the easier side of this challenge, as he loves them anayway!

One evening in our cottage in Ballymaloe, Tim Allen dropped around a pot of delicious sweet potato curry that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after! I never did manage to get the recipe so I had a go at recreating it myself. This curry is laden with vegetables but the sweet potato gives it lots of texture and the chickpeas add protein. It may not be exactly the same but it is really delicious and is easily scaled up for a crowd.

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Coconut Curry:

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Serves 4 hungry people or 6 normal people

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, finely grated
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely grated
  • 1 chilli, sliced – I left in the seeds but this is up to personal preference
  • 1 tsp ground cumin – Sidebar: These spices will be remarkably better if toasted whole and then ground fresh!
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1x 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1x 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 large sweet potato, cut into bitesize chunks
  • 1/2 medium cauliflower
  • A handful of green beans, trimmed and halved
  • Handful of kale, chopped
  • Handful of chopped coriander for sprinkling on top
  1. Fry the onion in the oil until softened but not coloured. After a few minutes, add the ginger and garlic and chilli and cook through. Season at this point with salt and pepper.
  2. Stir in the spices and fry with the onion, garlic and ginger for a couple of minutes.
  3. Gradually stir in the coconut milk, the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning at this point.
  4. Add the chickpeas, sweet potato and cauliflower and cook on a low heat until the vegetables have softened and the sauce has thickened.
  5. Add the green beans about five minutes before serving and cook through. Just before serving, toss in the kale but do not put a lid back on the pan as it will lose its vibrant green colour.
  6. Serve with your choice of rice, sprinkled with chopped coriander and a dollop of yoghurt.

I cant believe how fast time is passing! Last time we spoke, I was still knee deep in the madness that is the Ballymaloe 12 week certificate course and loving every minute. Well much has happened since then, let me fill you in!

On the 13th March, a group of my fellow students and I organised a pop-up dinner event in the school to raise money for East Cork Slow Food’s educational project, purchasing chickens and developing vegetable gardens for local schools. Our theme for the evening was Masquerade and the menu was seasonal and filled with as much farm produce as we could muster.

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And what an evening it was:

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Look at some of the beautiful food produced by incredibly talented cooks!

 

After the madness of the popup dinner, we were invited by Darina and Tim to a celebratory dinner in their house which was one of the nicest evenings.2016-03-15 19.01.542016-03-15 19.27.33

 

After all that fun, it was time to get down to brass tax….exams! Twelve weeks of full on learning would be distilled down into a series of written exams accompanied by an intensive practical exam. Study became the main focus around the courtyard

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The practical exam involved planning a balanced and seasonal menu of starter, main, dessert and a bread, assigned to us the day before the exam. The menu had to be dedicated to a theme. The theme I chose was a farewell meal for my family, the food they love most and the ideal goodbye meal for them as I was abandoning them!

Seared scallops with beurre blanc.

~

Roasted rack of lamb, purple sprouting brocolli, duck fat roast potatoes, fresh mint chutney and gravy.

~

Lemon tart with lemon ice-cream and candied julienne of lemon peel.

After what was undoubtedly the fastest few hours of my life, I was pretty happy with all I had produced. I just about managed to snap a quick picture when I was ushered out to allow the judges to taste everything and to allow me to breath!

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One more day of study and then the barrage of exams took over on Friday. The exams were tough, I am not going to lie! For any prospective students considering doing the 12 week course, big tip – study early, study often! I’ve never been more exhausted than trying to cram in a shedload of information in those last few weeks. Make notes from the start that you can review later on! Questions on the exams covered a litany of subjects and included topics such as far ranging as “what is a bullock” and “Name four uses for chocolate ganache”!

And then it was done, time to pack and decompress after the exams as well as anticipate the goodbye dinner being lovingly prepared by Rory O’Connell. One last evening of drinks with the incredible group of new friends I have met along the way and then it was up to the school for our farewells.

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A fantastic evening with the most beautiful food and wonderful company topped off by a dj session with Mossie from The Blackbird (and a slightly unfortunate incident with a candle and my hair! Thanks Sabrina!)

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I can honestly say that deciding to attend Ballymaloe has been one of the best decisions of my life. Every day was a new experience and an opportunity to learn with like-minded people. I’ve met people who have blown me away with their talent and skills and just as importantly, people with warmth, humour and compassion! Living with and working with 60 odd people all day, every day is of course a challenge but is made so much easier by people supporting and helping each other through tough days and making each other laugh. I know I will see great things from so many of my classmates in years to come.

So now on to the next adventure, of which I will update you in the next post!

Slán for now,

xx

E

 

 

 

Fish on Friday

Fish is one of the big reasons I wanted to do the course here at Ballymaloe. My background is in fisheries management and marine science. It is strange but I have not often cooked with fish much at home. I will nearly always order seafood in a restaurant and I truly love eating nearly every fish type. I am so aware of how valuable fish is and fisheries has been a part of my livelihood for a relatively long time. My hesitance in cooking it is probably due in part to my lack of confidence in preparation as well as over exposure to fish!

 

Pretty little pollack that became fish and chips


 

Sustainable fisheries and how our food habits can influence and be influenced by our entire marine ecosystem are all things I am hugely interested in. Fishing is an occupation, or way of life, which is so influenced by environmental practices from all over the world. Unlike farming, in which you can manage (albeit amid strict legislation) your land in a way you are comfortable with in order to create wonderful produce, fishing can be hugely challenged by the influence of many external factors as well as high levels of management and legislation. That is not always a negative thing but it certainly makes for a challenging business. For this and so many other reasons, being knowledgeable about fish and where to buy from, is so important.

Langoustines, Scampi, Nephrops, whatever you call them, they are yummy!

What does that mean? What can we as consumers do to change bad practices?

Seafood is so simple and so wonderful

Sustainable fisheries are the way to go. For the most part, you are looking for small scale fishermen on inshore or nearshore vessels catching seasonally and in limited quantities. Nothing good can come from factory ships, hoovering up anything and everything from the ecosystem.

  

 

The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone interested in fish or seafood: buy local and but seasonal. You may love salmon but buying farmed Alaskan salmon does nothing of benefit to our ecosystem or for long term success of fishing in Ireland. Similarly, most people love cod and while cod stocks are slowly recovering, importing cod from Norway caught by an offshore trawler isn’t half as good for you or the environment as buying beautiful pollack from an inshore dayboat caught as freshly as possible. If you want a fish that is out of season, you are better off buying fish caught and frozen as locally as possible than importing from a distant country. Talk to your fishmonger. Think before you buy. Don’t buy your fish from a supermarket! Try new species! And most of all, enjoy your fish! Like meat, it is a real treat. So happy Friday, go get yourself some yummy fish and get to know your fishmonger!

We have just completed week 8 here at Ballymaloe cookery school and I genuinely cannot believe how fast time is flying by! It is all starting to become a bit of a blur where the dishes become more complicated and the days more filled, but that’s where the fun lies!

 

A full day’s menu

 
One of my favourite things to eat in this world is scallops and I was lucky enough to be able to cook a few on Monday last week, along with a steak, chips and bearnaise sauce (which I would happily swim in!) The time has come for us to start thinking about what we would like to cook for our final menu, which we are examined on during the final week and I will admit I am struggling with identifying the dishes I want to cook! There are so many to choose from but I am sure I will narrow it down eventually!

 

Mr McGregor’s potting shed, or so I like to think!

 Tuesday was a beautiful day on the farm and I took every opportunity possible to get out and about. I love the herb garden here, for anyone who has ever read Beatrix potter books, this little shed reminds me of Mr McGregors potting shed in the Peter Rabbit story. There is even a pair of wellies outside the shed door with rosemary growing in them, highlighting how every space is so valuable here.

  
I’ve told you before about the piglets, well I’ve had much more time to visit them this week. Boy have they grown. They are so funny now, they are messing about and running into each other and not giving mummy pig a moments peace! They are still cute though.

  
I’ve begun thinking more and more about the next steps after this course, although that in itself is hard to face, leaving the bubble! As many of you will know, I will be moving to Boston, MA to join my wonderful husband as soon as my time here is up. It’s so hard to think that I will be leaving everyone behind in Ireland once more, friends and family and now the new friends I’ve made in Buttermaloe. Nonetheless, it is an incredible opportunity for travel and adventure that we have been lucky enough to be offered. I am so excited to get to know Boston and the states and to begin exploring the wonderful food there too! Ireland even introduced me to some snowy weather on Friday this week to help prepare me for Boston winters! 

  

In the mean time, here is a yummy pecan squares recipe which we have every Wednesday at coffee time and it reminds me of the proper American pecan pie.

Caramelised Pecan Squares:

Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery School:

Ingredients:

Pastry base

  • 100g icing sugar, sifted
  • 285g plain white flour
  • 225g softened butter

Pecan topping

  • 200g butter, melted
  • 150g honey
  • 3 tablespoons (45g) cream
  • 50g soft brown sugar
  • 400g pecan nuts
  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  2. Grease a Swiss roll tin (38cm X 25.5cm)
  3. In a bowl, mix together flour and sugar then rub in the butter. You can actually whizz this in a food processor.
  4. Spread into the tin nice and evenly. Bake the base for 20-25 mins until pale golden.
  5. Meanwhile mix the melted butter with the honey, cream and brown sugar. Stir in the pecans.
  6. Spread the topping over the pastry base and return to the oven for a further 25 mins.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool completely before cutting into squares. This can be cut into small squares as it’s very rich!

Smokin’ hot and cold.

One of the lovely things about Ballymaloe is that you can be as involved in as many different things as you can imagine or you can focus on the day to day cooking, depending on what you are interested in. 

Beautiful frosty morning on the farm this week

Last week was a week of extra curriculars for me! Some of us made a cheese on Monday with Maria in our micro dairy on the farm, which was really great fun and very interesting.

 

Cheeses galore

 
On Wednesday, Pat (one of our teachers here) talked us through the ins and outs of smoking food. He introduced us to hot smoking using smokers that you can put on a hob at home. He smoked chicken, duck even nuts in the hot smokers which were so delicious!

 

Pat introducing us to the world of smoked foods

 
He then brought us to see the schools cold smoker which they built themselves last year. In this, Pat had smoked eggs, fish, chillies, garlic and even butter!

  
On Thursday, my salad recipe included smoked almonds so I was lucky enough to get to use the smoker myself. It really was very straightforward and I would seriously consider buying a smoker myself.

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