Before setting out on a whole new year of blogging I must tidy up 2011. On the face of it December may not be the most foodie of months – the Christmas and New Year’s bashes apart – but it proved so busy that I really did not have time to deal properly with all that went on.
Right at the start it was a return to Ireland. This of course involved a strange route – well would you have imagined otherwise?
Cwmbran to Aberystwyth may seem an illogical start but when the Saw Doctors are playing there the logic is blinding.
So a hack across Mid Wales and we arrived 15 minutes before the start. Now the lads generate craic and are generous with their time so it was a bit after 11 when they finished.
Back in the car we set off for Pembroke Dock arriving just as the ferry unloaded and 15 minutes later we had squeezed through customs – not before the Border Agency made Janet remove her belt and walk through the metal detector a few times, and made it into the Priority Boarding Lane. By 2:45 we had set sail and arrived in Rosslare before sunrise.
The much improved N25 makes heading west very easy do before 8 we had arrived in Dungarvan for breakfast – and before the parking charges apply! Refuelled on a full Irish it was off to County Cork.
First stop was Ballymaloe Cookery School where I had to deliver Darina Allen some of the Trealy Farm charcuterie that she wanted so much to try.
James had provided a good range of products that impressed and would be demonstrated to students whilst she also said that she must get James over to do a full demo and explain about the developments at Trealy including a day’s course on the farm. Darina hosts the Irish School of Artisan Food and is linked to the UK version so James’ new project naturally excited her.
I also took the opportunity to give Darina some of my Bacon Jam having notice that she had mentioned it as a food trend in the Irish Examiner, I also had to give her the recipe so I presume that she liked it. Certainly the Christmas Card which arrived a couple of weeks later gave that impression.
Of course if you happen to be in the school around lunchtime, and have a connection, you often get invited to lunch! And so it was.
Being week 11 of the Autumn course, the week before exams, the students were turning out some very good food so Janet and I treated ourselves to a meal made all the better by not having to cook it yourself and one cooked with passion and great ingredients. Starters, salad, mains and dessert with three kinds of bread and an outstanding artisan cheese board all had to be tried!
A large lunch threatened to make Dinner a bit of a problem.
We usually manage to eat at Ballymaloe House on a Saturday but a private function meant that on this occasion we would have to do Friday evening instead. An overnight crossing and a big lunch was going to make it a challenge.
But we are made of stern stuff so a mere five course meal was not going to stand in our way.
Friday nights at Ballymaloe House mean that the starters are a buffet. A large table groans under the weight of dishes covering the full range of the plant and animal kingdoms and to enjoy at its best a couple of trips are needed – not gluttony but to separate the fish from the meats.
Smoked Mussels, Smoked Eel, Prawns, Langoustine, Lobster vol au vents and Oeufs Mimosa completed my piscine choices before I moved on to the Pork Terrine and Chicken Liver Pate, the whole accompanied by a range of fresh breads.
I then moved on to the Consommé Julienne, crystal clear beef stock with shreds of vegetable visible through it, like Koi Carp in an ornamental pond.
My main course was Traditional Roast Goose with a potato and apple stuffing accompanied by Scallion Champ, Mushroom A La Crème and a green salad. Portions at Ballymaloe House are medium sized but you are always offered a second helping and, may indeed choose another main course altogether. I declined the offer as tiredness was beginning to set in!
Irish Farmhouse cheeses followed with a fresh Ardsallagh Goat Cheese, Cais Dubh and Milleens making my plate sing with flavour And the Ballymaloe Cream Crackers. These are made with cream and have a crispness and crunch that make you rethink your entire approach to biscuits with cheese. They are also the subject of one of my greatest culinary disasters. Making them in school I put them in an oven at 250 and went off to collect other ingredients from the pantry. A fellow student rushed up and told me that my oven was on fire! Doh!, should have been 150.
That over, we tackled the Dessert Trolley.
A Ballymaloe legend, the trolley will always contain a frozen meringue roulade ( uses up egg whites) and an ice cream but also five or six other desserts, pies, compotes etc. You may (and indeed are encouraged to) try the entire range and the portions are not reduced should you so choose. The key word for the servers is “And..”.
With a bottle of good wine and coffee and petit fours to round off the experience we retired to our hotel shattered but satisfied.
The next day would see some serious sourcing of ingredients……
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