Chicken Joint Massacare

So, it all got a bit serious this week at cookery bootcamp, we graduated to meat. Yes we are jointing, filleting, carving and generally hacking at meat and fish.  It's quite unsightly to be honest.  It's been a blue plaster frenzy, a proper chicken joint massacre, lots of sheepish looks (pardon the pun) and damaged fingers.  Thankfully I escaped hacking my finger off, felt quite smug, well for about 5 minutes until the bloody peeler got me, hilariously I wasn't even peeling anything, I got in a tissy with my knife holder and peeled half my finger nail off.  On the blue plaster went and I joined the accidental meat hackers clan.  I felt like I briefly belonged to a group, every cloud.   Anyway I feel like I am going to have to stockpile chickens and start practicing my art if I have a hope in hell chance of passing the skills test.  To be fair I wasn't too bad but I'm not about to give anyone a demo.

Weirdly I've been having a moral dilemma about the chickens.  I can feel my latent vegetarian ways resurfacing (I was a vegetarian for 10 years until ironically a chicken  satay got me).  There is so much love and care given to the land; farming and producing the highest quality of meat and fish you'd think this would sit rather comfortably, especially if you compare it to the mass-produced cruel nonsense that most supermarkets are force feeding the masses.  However being surrounded by my happy hens I have started to see them as pets, I keep dreaming up ways of how I can make them house trained.  Missing your own pets apparently does this. Or maybe I've finally lost the plot. Anyway the thought of stock piling chickens just so I can be a ninja jointing accomplished chef is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.   Please do know at this point that my lovely happy hens produce eggs they will definitely NOT be joining the stockpile. I will ponder on this further and let you know what happens.  I am not quite sure switching allegiance to the non-meat eating side at this junction will go down very well, there is enough jiggery pokery that goes into avoiding the dairy.

Another phenomenon erupted at Ballymaloe this week: may I present the 'Front Row Demo War'.  Let me explain.  Every afternoon we have a 3 hour cooking demo of the following day's food.  It would seem the front row is the golden ticket, you are closer to the action, you can look keen and if you ask enough questions someone might know your name without your identity tag on (we have to wear our names badges at all times, it is in fact a very sensible thing to do but causes some problems when you see someone out of school hours, haven't got a bloody clue who they are to be honest).  There is some shifty strategising that goes into claiming a front row seat, I swear people must be up at the crack of dawn hiding in the shadows, waiting to make their move.  It's like some sort of 80's holiday that you went on with your parents and there was endless chat about who was out putting the towels on the sunbeds first. I am not into the front row. I seem to be comfortable in the second. I tried the "yeah I'm cool, I am going to hang at the back" but I got all prissy about not being able to see so relocated myself back to the second row.   Now I tell you if the 'Front Row Demo Tribe' start moving onto the second row I might have to start pulling out some moves.  Oh god how my life has changed.

Someone asked me if I am enjoying it at Ballymaloe.  The honest answer is I don't know.  It is really intense,  everything moves at a million miles per hour so whilst you can most definitely appreciate the amazing information and exposure you are getting I am not sure many would be able to say that they are fully absorbing it all.  I know I'm not. I am desperately trying to but I know I'm not.  Also I just don't know if I am any good, intellectually I understand I'm learning and mistakes will happen and believe me they are happening.  I felt quite sorry for myself on Friday when I was faced with my lemon and meringue and no pie, the pie part didn't really come together. Sort of cracked, rather dramatically.   I laughed about it at the time but my accidental deconstructed lemon meringue pie doesn't seem so funny anymore. Rather sad.

I'm not really sure where I expected to be at this stage, I mean I certainly never claimed to be an accomplished cook, let's be honest I only really started to enjoy food without hating myself over the past four years.  But honestly I just don't know if I am any good.  I feel a huge amount of pressure, today, two weeks in, I feel like it must work. There is no if, but, or maybe, just a big fat MUST.  I've got ten weeks to up my game to prove to myself and others (not sure who the  'others' are but let's just go with it) that I can change the direction of my life.   That's an enormous amount of pressure.   I want to say that I am absolutely loving it but that would be a lie.  I feel massively privileged to have this opportunity I intend to do all I can to take as much as possible from the experience, but it's hard.  It's hard going from doing something that you were brilliant at to doing something that you have no clue you're any good at.  I also feel bloody lonely.  Managing my anxiety and being in this situation is hard. But hey, these are the demons aren't they? These are the things break us or make us brilliant.   The thing is it should be enjoyable, it should be a joy to be cooking and learning and being on the path to setting up a business, no pain no gain isn't that the mantra of the muscle men?  Well I don't give up easily, so in your face lemon meringue pie or tart or whatever evil confidence eroding desert your are.  I don't even like lemon meringue pie/tart. Oh the irony, it just doesn't stop does it?

So just for those who may be interested in what I actually did in week 2, here you go: Learnt to make cheese,  creme caramel, white soda bread, brown soda bread, traditional soda bread (soda bread is a theme, well I am in Ireland people it's to be expected), joint a chicken, filleting a fish, joint a lamb, extract crab meat, do clever things with aubergine,  lemon meringue...yes, well let's not go there again.

  1. Making cheese is actually really simple, who knew? (I've included a recipe at the end because I'm nice like that)
  2. Pastry is still not my friend in fact I think we are enemies
  3. I've started to do a straw poll on the f*ck/feck situation and I think I've been misled. There are some fine potty mouths out here I can tell you.
  4. Burgundy is the homeland of Pinot Noir.  Love it that I can become a wine snob
  5. You pronounce Riesling 'Reesling' (see above)
  6. If anyone has any tricks or tips on how to keep the white in chef's whites then do please let me know
  7. I really need to stop wearing my chefs shoes, my fashion sense has seriously gone south
  8. Red wine and cheese seems to be perfectly acceptable dinner
  9. Curiously there are lots of mosquitos here who seem to have a fondness for my bottom
  10. I wonder whether I'll be able to keep to my order of work at any point in the next 10 weeks?

Anyway that's it for this week, I am off to practice pastry.  Jesus I bore myself.  I don't even like fecking pastry!

Labne, soft cheese from the Middle East

1kg whole milk natural yoghurt

Line a strainer with a cheesecloth. Place over a bowl and pour in the yoghurt. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth to make a loose bundle and suspend the bag of yoghurt over the bowl and leave in a cool dark place for 8 hours.  What you have left in the cheesecloth is the Labne, the liquid in the bowl is the whey that can be discarded.  Refridgerate overnight before using the Labne.

You can serve with pomegranate seeds, shredded mint and pistachio nuts. Or when it's in season stir in 2 tablespoons of finely chopped wild garlic.

See, I told you, easy.

Nadra Shah