I’m not sure if it’s the stars (Venus leaving Capricorn), the storms (oh the rain), the stews (Irish, Oxtail, Beef and Oyster…. enough now) or just the fact that it’s week 7, but I haven’t quite felt in my groove this week. Perhaps it’s a post exam anticlimax, the fact we’re over half way through and suddenly the end (gasp!) is suddenly more in sight. Regardless, it’s been a funny old week.
I’ve moved kitchens and Monday morning found myself in the Yellow section in Kitchen 1. (Known by reputation for being the no-mucking-about-everyone-is-done-on-time Kitchen)
The week started well, beginning (as every Monday morning should) with desserts. I was making a raspberry fool and the simplest, but officially nicest shortbread biscuits I’ve ever had. New favourite biscuit alert. So light. So delicate. A fool is simply macerated fruit stirred (or swirled depending on how you’re feeling) into whipped cream. We were using frozen raspberries. Picked from the farm during last summer’s crop, they tasted dark, sweet and of sunshine.
I also made potted shrimp! So english. Not food I’ve made or eaten before really. Delicious though. Well, you would be too if you were potted in this delicious butter and spread on freshly baked brown yeast bread.
Tuesday we entered into the world of terrines and pates. Hmm. I have to say, anything with liver in does not excite my food mojo. I’m not a hater, I’m just definitely not a lover. There’s something about the slightly metallic taste of liver which I’ve just never bonded with. Fois gras, pates, pan fried lambs liver and now terrines… Needless to say it didn’t do anything to change my mind.
This Wednesday’s line up did not feature wine, chocolate or cheese. No teeny tiny scone or cakes in sight. Ha, at one point during the afternoon I to laugh because in fact we were sitting looking at pictures of the inside of rubbish bins! Just a bit of a change then.
Wednesday saw the return of Blathnaid Bergin, the Restaurant Advisor, continuing her lectures with Day 2 on Business of Food. And to be fair, the pictures of the inside of rubbish bins were actually quite interesting! The amount of waste a professional kitchen produces is biggest determinate to how successful and profitable that company will be. Everything that gets thrown out through poor kitchen management (i.e. poor food preparation, food going past its use by dates, dishes not selling etc) is money straight off your bottom line. It was pretty scary to see just how much stuff goes in those bins if a) you don’t manage your stock properly, b) you don’t prep food carefully and cook thoughtfully, e.g. large chunks of perfectly good vegetables, cuts of meat and egg whites etc are just thrown out rather than being reused and c) you use your freezer as a dumping ground, only to find things month later which are unrecognisable and can’t be named, let alone sold. Waste. It’s a downer.
Blathnaid shared lots of ideas for good kitchen management systems in relation to key areas in the restaurant lifecycle; that is forecasting, ordering, receiving, storage, preparation, service and post service. This is service design thinking. All around equipping us with (or at least opening our eyes to) the skills, tools and knowledge that a restaurant / cafe / catering business needs to run an operationally efficient, on brand, experience oriented service.
It wasn’t Mersault or Malbec, but it was interesting all the same. (Just in a different way)
We also looked at menu costings, which was fascinating. Did you know the garnish can often cost twice that of the actual item you’re buying, e.g.from a scone with cream and jam guess which is the most expensive thing on your plate?
Finally we had a cafe owner come and talk to us about her experiences of opening a cafe earlier last year. Not quite a year into being open she had lots to share with us about her experiences thus far.
Wednesday night we had a smoking lecture! Hot and cold smoking. Smoked chocolate! Smoked eggs. Smoked butter?! Pat, one of the tutors is a smoking expert and he whizzed us through the ins and outs of hot smoking (think biscuit tin on your hob) to cold smoking (think Heath Robinson-esque somewhere outside in your garden) The smoked chocolate and eggs were my favourite.
Somewhat confusingly, cold smoked is still hot. I mean it’s still made with smoke from a burning flame… but the smoker itself, while smokey, is kept at a temperature of less than 28C. Hence the name, cold smoked. Obviously, because of the low temperature it opens up a whole new world of smoked things. Hence the eggs, chocolate, butter. None of which would work at all well in a stove top hot smoker.
And that brings us to today, Thursday.
A day of cows it would seem. I helped milk them this morning. And then (sorry cows) turned them into stew.
Milking was so much fun! It now seems very naive to admit, but when I first heard we’d be milking cows I actually thought I was going to be sitting on a little 3 legged stool hand milking them. Oops. No. Not at all. This might be an organic farm, but they still use machines. Not quite as romantic as the image in my head but infinitely more efficient. We bought the 7 cows in from the frosty field and then took them in to be milked, clamping on the suction cups and watching the milk pump through into the vat through in the dairy.
Today most of the milk was going to be made into yoghurt, but I got to drink a glass of the warm, sweet, raw milk. So delicious. A totally different thing really to the skimmed milk I used to drink from a carton. Hardly recognisable as the same stuff.
From milking to making. Beef and Oxtail stew. Oxtail is a kind of scary looking part of the cow. It is actually the cow’s tail. Quite long and skinny, but much fatter down one end. And I hate to say it but when you cut it up between each of the joints it kind of looks like little fingers. Quite knuckly. It’s just; very body like. Hard to explain. I didn’t take a photo (hands covered in blood) but I will try to find some photos. Anyway, I got a little over making this stew. It took forever. In fact I still haven’t even tasted it! 3 hours into cooking and it still wasn’t ready. So I left it in the oven on a long and low heat all afternoon and took it out about 4pm. It did look like a very different beast after 7 hours of cooking. We will find out tomorrow. It’s all in the taste after all.
But I did make….flaky pastry! This is a marriage made in flour and butter heaven. Divide 225gms of butter into 4. Make pastry with one chunk. Then, over the course of the next couple of hours you roll out the pastry, add more butter, fold up like a book, roll again and chill. Then repeat until somehow, the pastry has absorbed all the buttery goodness in. That little butter baby is in the fridge, ready to be turned into apple pie tomorrow.
I went for a lovely long run this evening as we got out from demo pretty early. It was good, and much needed to get out in the evening light and fresh air.
It’s funny. I was a bit tired tonight and not sure I wanted to write a blog post. But in reviewing and writing about everything I’ve done in the past few days I’m just remembering all the good bits! Not the out of sorts, a bit flat and where’s-my-energy gone bits. In fact; I’m slightly blown away with all the amazing things I’ve done and that have been going on around me. I have so much to be thankful for and so much to be grateful about.
I heard a good saying today, one to remember when you think things aren’t going quite right.
“Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”