Francesca just had surgery yesterday and while it was a pretty low-key procedure, she was supposed to be out of commission for about a week. We had grand plans to lift her spirits and nurse her back to health, so it was a bit unsettling to find her running around the house this morning and having her drag *me* out of bed this morning. She appears to be the healthiest person in the house right now. That said, we had already promised her a special breakfast this morning so even though she’s doing a terrible job proving she deserves it, we’re committed to french toast and bacon, at least for brunch (oh how we suffer).
Right before my birthday this past spring, I spent a beautiful weekend in Dingle, Ireland also pretending I needed to get well. I was thoroughly fake-stressed, and wanted a weekend of complete relaxation to welcome my 22nd year in style so, when the impending time came, I’d be ready to face the real world head-on. I spent the weekend biking, listening to traditional Irish music, and chatting with strangers in cozy pubs, but a large portion of the credit for the weekend’s “healing” powers goes to the Goat Street Café’s French Toast with Brie and Maple syrup. I swear that no combination of flavors has ever sung so beautifully and harmoniously together – they resonate through your heart like music from a particularly good traditional music session, and with similarly strong healing powers (as long as you don’t have an actual illness). You would never think to put these musicians together, but boy can they play. So to celebrate the art of pretending to get well, we’re putting an East Coast spin with Challah French Toast with Brie and Maple Syrup – and we’re adding a trad playlist to play while you eat. Whether you’re recovering from the Tired Tuesdays or post-sleep hunger, I assure you this is just the cure you need.
And we want to know – what makes you feel better when you’re pretending to be sick? Or do you have any fun spins on traditional breakfast foods? We want to hear all about it!
As a cooking instructor, I love Ballymaloe for their genius educational philosophy, for their respect for the environment, and for the care they put into each aspect of a meal. But, as we all know, none of that means much if the food isn’t good.
But of course, the food at Ballymaloe is incredible. The recipes were cleverly divided into clusters, each centered on a core ingredient. For example, Rory created many dishes based on Irish Smoked Salmon.
First, he paired it with sweet cucumber salad, potato wafers (fresh chips), and horseradish cream…
…then he made a Salmon Roulade with cream cheese and dill…
…and finally a beautiful Salmon-Trout Pâté.
For our main course, he made a breathtaking Pork en Croute (tenderloin in puff pastry) with Duxelle (mushroom) stuffing. He served this with a simple but delicious brambley apple sauce and gratin dauphinoise, a spectacular and versatile potato gratin which is cooked almost completely in cream and milk in a saucepan and then baked for only 10-15 minutes. It was just amazing. I can’t wait to make it myself!
Dessert was the most spectacular part of the meal. Here, Rory used ice cream as his core ingredient. He made several, including chocolate, cappuccino, coffee, vanilla and praline flavors. And being a genius food stylist as well as chef, he came up with endless plating styles!
He made parfaits with hot chocolate sauce, an ice cream bombe made with coffee, chocolate and praline ice cream…
… and cappuccino ice cream served with chocolate curls in beautiful coffee cups…
… but the best things he made, without a doubt, were the iced chocolate oranges. This recipe is simple brilliance at its finest. He simply hollowed an orange, filled it with mousse, froze it and garnished with orange flavored cream and a tiny bay leaf. So beautiful, so delicious.
In three short hours, Rory even taught us how to delicately make tiny chocolate cases. It takes a lot of patience, but other than that all you need is cupcake wrappers, melted chocolate (50-70% cocoa) at room temperature and a spoon. You carefully spread the chocolate along the sides of the paper, taking great caution to spread the chocolate evenly in a thin layer. Refrigerate for at least an hour and then gently peel the paper away.
Expect some to crumble your hand – Rory says a few always will, its just the nature of this delicious beast – but it is thoroughly worth the effort. Here they are, filled with amazing chocolate ice cream!
Just writing about Ballymaloe, I long to return. I’ll leave you with some other images of my day. Pictured first is the herb garden, of which Susan, a member of Darina’s cheery staff, gave me a lovely private tour as the sun was setting. The focal point of the meticulous garden is the Myrtle bush, in honor of Darina’s mother-in-law, Myrtle, the original Ballymaloe maverick. She was Alice Waters before Alice Waters was. She opened a Ballymaloe’s acclaimed restaurant a little less than 50 years ago and she insisted on changing the menu daily based on what was fresh and seasonal, which was unheard of back in 1964.
Most of these recipes can be found in the glorious food bible, Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course. Reading the book isn’t of course, as cool as being one of those lucky people who gets to spend three months in Ballymaloe heaven, but it’s a treasure of delicious, manageable recipes, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite cookbooks. Please check it out, and let us know if you decide to try anything!
Before we left for Ireland a few weeks ago, a foodie friend told me about Ballymaloe Cookery School in the tiny town of Shanagarry a short distance from the coast in County Cork. I thought it would be great way to spend an afternoon, never really expecting to have an inspirational day. But every once in a while you come across an experience that gives you perfect joy, and that is the kind of the journey I had recently at Ballymaloe.
Ireland is known for ancient castles, for mysterious stone circles dotting the Celtic countryside, and for lush green hills with sheep and picturesque houses.
But recently, Ireland has become packed with exciting restaurants and chefs promoting local, seasonal, and organic versions of traditional Irish cuisine. Yes, mushy peas still unfortunately grace pub menus, but you’re just as likely to find fresh salmon smoked by a local artisan or prawns caught just hours earlier wrapped in phyllo dough.
Mark generously offered to drive 2½ hours from our beautiful seaside house in Dingle, so I could take an afternoon class.
Fortunately there was a wonderful zoo near the school, so Mark, Isabella and Francesca were happy to let me leave.
I had my preconceived notions of what a “cookery” school would be. We’d learn the secrets of brown bread and black pudding, and there would something with bacon in it for sure! I’d leave feeling saying was a pleasant few hours…
Dead wrong. Not even a little right.
As we pulled into the narrow old gates to the Ballymaloe estate, and I entered the school, I knew instantly that I just entered Irish gastro-heaven. The aroma from lunch students just finished wafted so intoxicatingly. A beautiful clay bowl of floating flowers and a sumptuous basket of delicious fresh foccacia baked with superb black olives welcomed visitors.
Darina Allen along with her brilliant brother Rory founded Ballymaloe in 1983. Since then, they have created a nationwide movement from their sprawling estate in the Irish countryside; 400 acres of organic vegetable and herb gardens, cottages, and cow pastures. They are collectively the Alice Waters of Ireland (in fact Rory helped Waters at Chez Panisse in the ’70s).
At Ballymaloe, there is a love for the all aspects of a great meal, going beyond ingredients and encompassing the earth, the community (Darina founded the first modern day farmers markets in Ireland), and even the seasons. Darina and Rory bring respect, passion and infectious joy not only to the food, but also to each person they teach. You see so many happy people at Ballymaloe, despite the long hours they work, because they see cooking as an opportunity to share the gospel of great food.
I’m not sure many chefs or schools in the United States can boast that virtually all the ingredients are local, organic fresh and self-sustaining as much as we all believe these ideals. It helps that Ballymaloe devotes more than 100 acres, a quarter of their land, to organic gardening. There are 50 varieties of tomatoes, and every herb and root vegetable imaginable. The neighbors provide, the hens, ducks and additional produce when theirs runs out, and the fish in caught in the nearby village of Ballycotton. Students not only get to experience this first hand, but learn to prepare food that is very well seasoned, beautiful and utterly delicious. The earth, says Darina, is an essential component of great food. She’s been preaching this for decades, long before Whole Foods made it fashionable. On day one, for example, students are introduced to Eileen and Kay, the head gardeners, and Darina herself (who describes herself as an eccentric, grey-haired hippie woman on a mission) shows them a barrow full of rich soil. After running her hands through it, she tells them, “Remember, this is where it all starts, in the good earth, and if you don’t have clean fertile soil, you won’t have good food or pure food.” Then they get their first recipe; how to make compost!
Their teaching method is very clever. The professional students watch a three-hour demonstration every afternoon, which is the class I took. Afterwards, there is a tasting so they know what how each dish should taste and students get ideas for presentation. The next morning, they cook the same exact menu and at lunchtime everyone (students and instructors) has a family meal and enjoys the fruits of their hard work.
Perhaps the real reason I fell so in love with this place is that their philosophy about food is so similar to my own. No foams, weird vapors or dumb food combinations. I can’t stand it when chefs offer things like fried watermelon with wilted dandelion greens. (I’m serious. I had this once at a restaurant considered one of the best in the country. It was of, course, dreadful). The food prepared here is innovative, delicious and beautiful, but doesn’t involve Herculean effort to prepare. And of course, it was perfectly seasoned. A great chef knows that the above all else, the food must be well seasoned or it won’t taste good. It seems obvious, but this makes the difference between a good meal and a great one.
The demo featured more than 20 great, clever and versatile recipes featuring fish, meats, vegetable dishes and desserts with ingredients that were perfectly fresh and beautifully presented. Stay tuned for the highlights!