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The Ballymaloe Cookery Course book is the cookbook equivalent of the courses offered by the famous Ballymaloe cookery school in Ireland run by Darina Allen. The book touts itself as the cook's bible and having a first look at it, they are not wrong. It is large and solid and contains over 1100 recipes.
The book is hardback with a loose-leaf cover, which as always I would recommend that you remove to preserve it when cooking. Underneath it has a lovely glossy marble effect front cover. The spine is flexible enough to allow the book to lie flat. However, I would recommend that wherever possible that you stand it up as the book is so big that I have found that frequent use has meant that some of the pages have become slightly loose from the binding.
There is a quite lengthy introduction which for once is worth reading as it sets a lot of context for Ballymaloe and its ethos as a school. Much of which reads like an essay. Allen talks about her inspirations and idols and also about the 12 week course on which this is based - that said, do not think of this as an advert for this course as I have looked it up and it costs over £8,500 (although is one of the things that I am planning to do should I ever win the lottery.). Although she does talk about some of the shorter courses that the school holds.
Following this are a number of subsections. First up is shopping in which Allen emphasises the importance of quality ingredients. Following this are sections on local food and why we should feel encouraged to cook. Other important elements she promotes are the notions of tasting food whilst you cook it, including tips on how to enhance your taste buds, the use of herbs and spices, how to get portion sizes right and the importance of 'family meals. She also has a section which I have never seen before in a cookbook entitled 'at the table' which focuses on how to lay a table and table manners. This is described as an essential part of the residential course, but is not as pretentious as it sounds!
Next up we have sections on fashion in food and a paragraph on food and health. There is a comprehensive section on kitchen safety, from practical elements such as knife maintenance and safety to hygiene, including the best ways to wash up. Allen promotes the use of eco-friendly detergent and the use of chemicals being kept to a minimum, as well as exercising cynicism at the use of anti-bacterial products.
Following this we have a page on store cupboard basics which vary from your basics - onions, garlic etc to the more elaborate - tapenade, harissa and a few treats such as truffle oil or salted capers (ugh!). Next up there is a list of essential kitchen equipment from knives, tools through to saucepans and machines. There is then a very useful section on using freezers , emphasising how to get the best out of freezing certain ingredients. The information here is particularly useful and comprehensive including what does not freeze well. Tips on how to wrap, labelling, thaw and how to deal with situations such as power cuts and moving house. Next is a lengthy section on the use of wine, how to store it, choose it and how it accompanies food.
Now we finally get onto the recipes. There are several recipes to a page, many of which have a short introduction. A format which is continued throughout the book is that of a 'Master recipe' which is then followed by comparatively short and simple variations on this initial technique which will serve to create a different dish, flavour. Each chapter begins with a two-page introduction giving a lot of general information to assist with the recipes. Throughout each chapter are small cutaway bits of additional tips and ideas, including detailed photographed steps of essential techniques. Obviously with the sheer number of recipes I can only detail a small amount.
The first chapter of recipes is particularly useful and underpins a lot of the recipes that follow in that it; is on stock and soups. Example recipes are chicken stock, brown beef, lamb, fish, vegetable soup technique, potato and fresh herb soup (with many variations), carrot soup, parsnip soup, pumpkin soup, watercress soup, spiced chickpea soup with coriander cream and pitta crisps (recommended), Chinese fish soup with chilli and coriander, winter vegetable and bean soup with spicy sausage (another favourite). There are additional sections on how to chop an onion, make a bouquet garni, preparing tomatoes and spinach.
Then we come to the section on starters. This has a lengthy introduction on how to get the best out of this course particularly when cooking for others, including tips on texture and choosing the most appropriate recipes. Example recipes are: variations on bruschetta, mezzes, dips, purees, sorbets, warm salads, pates, tarts, quesadillas, pakoras and Mexican snacks such as nachos and quesadillas. Tips are contained on salting and brining, preparing peppers.
Then onto an egg section. It starts with information on different characteristics of types of eggs, storage, health and hygiene issues. Recipes include eggs and soldiers, eggs Benedict, mayonnaise, scrambled eggs (and variations), baked eggs, omelettes, frittatas, soufflés, shortcrust pastry, crepes and blinis. There are subsections on the basic skills required for the preparation of eggs - poaching, boiling etc, dealing with egg whites, key points for successful soufflés, lining flan rings and cooking crepes.
Next up comes the 'rice, other grains and pulses' section. The introduction details varieties of produce as well as safe storage and preparation. Recipes include different varieties of cooked rice eg plain boiled rice through to fried rice, pilaf rice and sticky rice, sushi, various risottos, couscous, quinoa, polenta, bean stews and lentil dishes. The cutaways give information on preparing specific pulses and grains.
Then we move to the pasta and noodles section. Once again it begins by describing different varieties and how to deal with them. The recipes begin with a master recipe for homemade pasta with a number of different photographs to assist with this. This then moves onto useful sauces including ragu and alfredo, pasta recipes with fish, lasagnes, raviolis, macaroni cheese, cannelloni, noodle salads and dishes.
We then come to vegetables. The introduction does not give a massive amount of useful information compared to the other ones due to the fact that a lot is explained in the recipes. Example recipes are: creamed savoy cabbage, cauliflower cheese and variations with other vegetables, ways of preparing parsnips, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beetroot, onto roast potatoes and variations, mash, and other potato variations, onion recipes (including a useful onion bhaji one), tomatoes (including how to 'make' sundried tomatoes, moussaka, spiced vegetable pie (very versatile and tasty). There is a particularly useful section on how to cook chips.
The next section is on salad. These vary from pasta salads, eg Tuscan pepper and pasta salad, Tuscan pepper and pasta salad to salads including fish, meat, vegetables, pulses, coleslaw etc. There are then several salad dressings including vinaigrettes detailed.
Next onto the fish and shellfish section. The information gives specific information on how to buy fresh fish and shellfish and ethical issues surrounding farmed and wild produce. Recipes include poached whole salmon, baked trout, roast seabass with olive oil and lemon (very good), ideas for tuna, cod, monkfish, mullet, haddock, plaice, fish and chips, squid, scallops, oysters, prawns, mussels, lobster. There are also fish pates, mousse, terrines, pies, lasagne, stew, paella and chowder. The cutaways feature particularly useful information on how to adopt basic fishmongery skills and preparing whole fish.
The poultry section is next. The introduction details issues around animal welfare and organics. There is also useful information on salmonella, giblets and general cooking tips. The recipes include pan-grilling chicken, pilaffs, breaded chicken, casseroles (really great with particularly useful variations), pies. There are also recipes for geese and duck.
The following section is on lamb. I do not eat lamb but here are some examples of the content. Initially there is a section giving information about the different properties of different cuts of lamb, and which breeds to look out for. Typical recipes are lamb roast with rosemary and garlic, roast shoulder of lamb with tapenade, lamb cutlets with tarragon vinegar, braised lamb shanks with garlic, rosemary and flageolet, Asian lamb stew, moussaka, shepherd's pie, lamb sausages. There are also sections and photographs on how to prepare various cuts of lamb such as saddles, racks, shanks, and legs as well as gravies.
Following this we come to pork and bacon. The initial section describes different types of pig products including hams, bacon, chorizos and bacons . Recipes include bacon chop with Irish Whiskey sauce, glazed ham and loin of bacon, roast pork with crackling, belly pork with star anise and savoy cabbage, casserole-roast pork with Normandy mustard sauce (just lovely), Portuguese pork, bean and chorizo stew, spare ribs, ginger pork. There are additional sections on how to make breadcrumbs, glaze ham or bacon and create lard.
The next section is on beef. The first part of this describes such things as the importance of good butchery, breeds and cuts of beef and how to cook them. Recipes include traditional roast rib of beef with horseradish sauce, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, pan grilled steak with Bearnaise sauce , French fried onions, peppered steak with cauliflower puree, beef provencale, boeuf bourguignon, Winter beef stew (my absolute favourite and most used recipe from this book), chilli con carne, beef courage, stroganoff, hamburgers, Mexican mince with tacos and tomato salsa (great for a Mexican food fiend like me), spicy koftas, Thai beef salad and Carpaccio. These sections are accompanying with advice on using mince, roasting times, boning and carving a rib of beef and how to cook steak with timings.
The next section is on offal - this makes me feel quietly squeamish so I will largely skirt over this if you don't mind! However, initially the introduction talks about different types of offal and nutrition. The recipes include oxtail stew, scalloped potato with steak and kidney, stuffed ox heart, butterflied lamb kidneys with rosemary, brawn, pork cheeks with Savoy cabbage and black pudding with grainy mustard and apple sauce. There are additional sections on preparing sweetbreads and kidneys.
We then come to the game section, another section I am not planning to use. However the introduction talks about different types of game, hanging, buying and freezing. Recipes include game broth with a julienne of vegetables, game pie, West Cork rabbit casserole, casserole-roast pheasant with apple and calvados, pheasant and potato pie, pigeon stew and pie, terrine of wild duck with sultanas, Venison pie. There are sections on preparing vegetables in julienne styles and preparing raspberries and hares
Next up is one of my favourite sections - puddings. The introduction is quite generic but a large part of it is given over to how to prepare a Ballymaloe Ice Bowl. That is a solution used by the school for many years for how to keep ice-cream or desserts cool in the restaurant; that is, a frozen ice-dish that can be re-used over several days with care and careful preparation.
Recipes include spiced fruit with star anise, various fruit salads, fresh fruit jellies, summer puddings, pears poached in saffron syrup, various compotes, fruit fools, a great 'break all the rules' meringue recipe with variations including accompanying them with lemon curt, coffee, chocolate and various fruits, roulades (including an absolutely divine one with mango and passion fruit sauce), many different ice creams - which do not require an ice-cream maker, sorbets, parfaits, mousses, crème brulee, creme caramel, bread and butter puddings with many variations, fantastic fudge puddings and toffee puddings, chocolate mousse, crepes, crumbles, lemon meringue pie, tarts including tarte tatin, fruit pies, steamed puddings, rice puddings. Finally there a number of traditional Christmas recipes including brandy snaps, mince pies, plum pudding and brandy butter. There are additional sections on how different types of pastry for pies and tarts.
We then move onto the cheese section. The introduction talks about the different types of cheese, buying and storing and accompaniments. Recipes include homemade cottage cheese, crème fraiche, mascarpone, yoghurt and cardamom cream, paneer with tomato and chilli sauce, cheese biscuits, cheese straws, fondue, cheese salads and melted camembert. There are additional section on homemade butter and how to make yoghurt.
Another favourite section follows this - cakes and biscuits. The introduction skirts over basic baking ingredients, preparations, 'keeping qualities and how 'to test for 'doneness'. Recipes include Christmas cakes, simnel cake, rum and raisin walnut cake, coffee cake, orange cakes, carrot cake, gingerbread, swiss roll, various sponges included Victoria sponge, chocolate cakes including gateaux, angel food cake, shortbread, macaroons, chocolate chips cookies, ginger biscuits, brownies and flapjacks. There are additional sections on how to make crystallised flowers and choux pastry.
Following this comes breads, scones and pizzas. The introduction lists the various components for preparing them including a lengthy section on different types of flour. Recipes include wholemeal bread, soda bread, foccacia, scones, savoury muffins, white breads, fruit breads , pizza, ciabattas, baguettes, sourdough, spelt, poppadoms, pretzels, tortillas, brioche and hot cross buns. There is an additional section on how to cook poppadoms.
Next up is jams and preserves. The introduction lists the basic guidelines for making jams, the equipment and ingredients needed and in which quantities they are necessary dependent on the fruit used. Jams include raspberry, strawberry, plum and apricot. We then move onto jellies with a brief introduction before moving into recipes like a basic crab apple or bramley apple jelly and many variations, redcurrant jelly and fruit glazes. Then we move onto marmalades, how to prepare them and ideas such as orange marmalade, no-cook marmalade and mincemeat. Next up are short-time preserves such as lemon curd. Then we move onto chutneys such as spicy apple chutney, onion marmalade, tomato and chilli jam, sweet cucumber pickle, chilli and red pepper relish, preserved lemons, homemade candied peel.
The next section is entitled 'breakfast'. The introduction is quite generic, basically listing all the different types of breakfasts, including their nutritional benefits. Recipes include oatmeal porridge, various mueslis, fruit salads, compotes, kipper and other fish dishes such as kedgeree, something entitled 'The Great Irish Breakfast' which goes through individual components of a traditional fried breakfast, suggestions for a children's breakfast, eggs Benedict, croissants, pain au chocolat, French toast ideas, waffles, pancakes, breakfast muffins and hot chocolate. There is an additional section on how to make coffee.
Next we come to the barbeque section. The introduction is quite lengthy and touches on different types of barbecues, how to cook effectively, marinating and , vitally, hygiene and safety. Recipes include various marinades for different meats, chicken burgers, chicken thighs, hamburgers, lamb chops, spare ribs, quesadillas, barbequed fish and prawns, bruschettas and fruit kebabs.
We then come to finger foods. The introduction details presentation, 'what to serve and when', suggested bases and topping and what quantities you should prepare. Recipes include many olive preparations, parmesan crisps (just delicious), crostinis, filled pretzels, salsa, potato wedges with dip, pigs in blankets, grissini and chicken wings. Then she moves onto petit fours such as fudge, chocolates, chocolate truffles, glazed fruits, meringue snacks and filo fingers. There is an additional lengthy section specially focussing on chocolate - how to melt it and all of the different types used in cooking.
The drinks section includes flavoured ice cubes, syrups such as elderflower and rosemary, a variety of homemade lemonades, homemade Ribena, lassis, various smoothies, flavoured vodkas and gins, punches, mulled wine, alcoholic coffees and herb teas and infusions.
The final section details sauces. These include how to make roux, béchamel sauces, various hollandaise based sauces, butter sauces, various mayonnaises (with detailed photographs of the process), mayonnaises, tartare suace, horseradish, flavoured butters, pestos, tapenades, tomato sauces, salsas, raitas, gravies and sweet sauces such as butterscotch sauce and crème anglais.
Following this is a two page spread on cooking information which includes details on measurements, oven temperatures and fridge and freezer storage. Then there are contact addresses with recommended food organisations and their details as well as those for the Ballymaloe brand. There is then a comprehensive glossary detailing cooking terms and preparations.
I appreciate that I have gone on a bit, however I have only really touched on the amount of information and recipes in this book. It is truly a comprehensive guide to food and cookery in every sense of the word. I have a lot of cookbooks but this is definitely one of my top, if not my actual favourite ones. I have learned so much from it. It informs so much of cooking and the techniques that are needed to become a competent cook and then some.
I would recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone with even the slightest issue in cookery. The book is written in an informative, no-nonsense but ultimately encouraging way. It is not patronising and also not intimidating. It is also pretty much the best put-together cookbook I have ever seen. This is put together like a proper cookery course. I have seen other book which claim to do this but ultimately do not cover anywhere near the ground that this does.
The scope of the recipes inside this book are almost immeasurable but is fair to say that it has a really good and fair mix of more complicated recipes and the ones you can do from day to day. I also like the fact that it features a number of accompaniments and ideas which can be prepared in advance for long term use - such as preserves.
All the recipes that I have tried from this book have been really well explained and the techniques in particular are presented in a really effective way in that they often have really good photography for the accompanying steps. I also like the fact that they have provided a number of different cuisines by means of preparation meaning that you are encouraged to experiment with flavours as well as new techniques and forms of cooking and could therefore encourage you to be more confident about being more experimental. The ingredients are not for the most part expensive or difficult to source either unless you are trying one of the more complicated or elaborate dishes.
In conclusion, this is an absolutely fantastic cookbook. The RRP is £30, but given the breadth of knowledge that it contains - it would almost pay for itself when you consider how many conventional cookbooks you would need to cover only a fraction of what this one does. However, it is typically available for £20 on Amazon and you can also find it on The Book People website quite frequently for £10 which is quite frankly ridiculous if you ask me.
All-in-all I would recommend this book to anybody, at no matter what ability level who has the slightest interest in cooking - I quite literally can't praise it enough.