Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Apologies for the late update with the blog, time has run away from me. I was so good for a few weeks, making sure I kept an evening free for updating the blog but now free time is pretty hard to find. The first of our exams starts tomorrow so everybody has been busy in the house doing last minute revising. We were lucky to have had the long weekend to finally have a little breather and a catch up on a little sleep. (Well some people did!! ) 

Here are some pictures of Ballymaloe Cookery School, all be it on a very dull day, but I thought I should show you some of my surroundings.

My house mate Hannah and the new chick arrival!
Exam Talk
Last week we had to submit our three-course menu that we are going to cook for our final practical exam next week. The practical exams will run next Wednesday and Thursday and then the three written papers will be on the Friday.

With the few thousand recipes we have in our folders, I needed to find a way to reduce my list of potential dishes to cook for the exam! I went and spoke to Haulie, the main gardener in Ballymaloe, and he gave me a good idea of what vegetables, salads and herbs I would have to work with over the next few weeks. This reduced my list dramatically and helped me create a seasonal menu, using as much as possible, local ingredients.

For starters, I have decided to make watercress soup, a fantastic, flavoursome and fresh tasting dish. Watercress is an amazing ingredient that is growing wild around the countryside at this time of year. You don’t need to be a master at foraging to find it. It grows in abundance alongside rivers and streams in the countryside. Watercress is also really good for you and a major source of iron in your diet - even better than spinach. The main thing to be aware of is that you must not pick watercress that is growing anywhere near or downstream from a cattle or sheep farm - for obvious reasons.

For my main course, I have chosen to cook pan fried Sea Bass with nam jim sauce (An Asian inspired coriander and green chilli sauce – It may sound funny but it is DELICIOUS!), on a bed of ruby chard with olive oil and served with Duchess Potato (a really creamy mash using golden wonders from the garden).
For dessert I am going to make ‘Alison’s Chocolate Tart’. Alison is the girl who runs the café at Ballymaloe House and this is one of her specialty desserts that I love. I am pretty excited and nervous about the final exam as we only have 3 hours to cook everything from start to finish. I think I have challenged myself with what I have to do, but hopefully with practice I will have all things under control!
As part of our three-course meal we also have to cook a bread in the allocated time. The type of bread will be drawn out of a hat the day before the exam. This is probably the most nerve racking part of the exam as the bread can vary from a soda bread, which is quite easy and quick , to a white yeast bread which requires a lot of kneading time.

A Busy Few Weeks
So as you can imagine, it has been very busy down here with only 2 weeks to go and the exams creeping up. The final party is being planned and it all seems a bit surreal that my life over the last 3 months has just been a whirlwind! We have covered so many techniques over the last few weeks and certainly a hell of a lot of puff pastry (Which I think some people will never want to see again! ) The way I think of it is, the more practice we get while we’re here, the better chance you have of remembering it when we leave. We have been making tarts, vol au vents, palmiers and sacristans coming out our ears. We also had an amazing demonstration afternoon of tapas and I have included lots of the pictures below.

Puff Pastry Madness
I really loved making these puff pastry tarts. Particularly the one above with the lined decoration. You can make any type of pattern you like. First egg wash the puff pastry and refrigerate for 5 mins. Then remove from the fridge and score the pastry in the pattern you like, making sure not to cut too deep into the pastry. Cook the pastry as required. Once it is cooked, dust heavily with icing sugar and put it under the grill to caramelise and you get the lovely finish like the one above. You need to stand by the grill and watch very closely or you'll have a blackened tart very quickly.

We have been making Palmiers and Sacristans coming out our ears. You may recognise Palmiers from your holidays in Spain or France. They are the little heart shaped puff pastry in the photo below. The puff pastry is rolled out flat, heavily dredged with icing sugar, rolled up into the lovely heart shapes and then baked in the oven until they are golden and caramelised. Another fab dessert is ' Gateau Pithivier' below. This is one I was introduced to while working at Ballymaloe House so I was really excited to get to make it here at the cookery school. It may sound simple, but it is essentially just two layers of puff pastry sandwiched with a frangipane (almond paste) filling and baked in the oven. It is then glazed with icing sugar which gives it  the most amazing presentation. 

Another highlight for me, was making a coffee meringue roulade (below). Before Ballymaloe, I hated meringue and coffee. I was reluctant to try my own dish even after I made it. I was really shocked at how delicious it tasted and now I am completely converted. It is a dessert that is absolutely to die for.

The Mornings Cooking - Sushi
This morning, we had a really great sushi demonstration, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It brought back memories of making sushi with my good friend Donal Skehan. We attended a sushi demonstration together, a few years back, in Donnybrook Fair Cookery School. After the demo, I felt inspired to get making sushi so I invited some friends around to make some with me. Donal, very kindly wrote an article about me in The Irish Independent and I was so excited and thrilled about it all. Have a read here:

Mothers Day Out!
My Mum came and visited me today for lunch at the cookery school. It was so nice to have her and show her around (Except that she has been here a hundred times!! )  I think she was quite in shock of the state of the house I am living in but I guess thats what happens when you put 11 people in the one house and more than half of those are boys. (Just saying! )  I tried to persuade her to stay for the afternoon demonstration but she had asparagus being delivered this afternoon and she had to run back and plant them before our dog Jake ate them!

Drinks at Darina's House
Tonight our house has been invited for drinks and canapés in Darina and Tim Allen’s House just beside our cottage. I have had a sneak peak into their house before and it looks really lovely. They are such a welcoming family so I am sure we will have a lovely evening there and have our last chance to chat before we all go our separate ways in just over a weeks time.

Again below are lots of photos which I have taking over the last couple of weeks to give you an insight into what I have been up to. I hope you enjoy and please leave comments below or any ask me any questions you like. I will hopefully be able to update you all in the next few days of where I am going next. I will definitely be spending a few days when I get back working on my new website Yay! Lots of ideas and creativity to come. If you have any tips for me I'd love to here!

Don't forget to follow me on twitter @kenny_laura and find me on facebook at

Bye for now,

Laura x

Flat Mushroom Burger with Wild Garlic Pesto and Goats Cheese

Banana Cake 

Homemade burgers with pancetta, mushroom al la créme and buffalo chips

Mini Sticky Toffee Puddings

Warm Salad of Lamb Kidneys, Straw Potatoes and Caramelised Shallots

Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Piperonata and Tapenade

Ballymaloe Vanilla Ice Cream served in an Ice Bowl

Poached Pear in Saffron with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Sauce

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