Week 7, or the week that I only managed to spend one day in the kitchen. All day demos, work experience and a spot of illness to round off the week meant that Monday was the only day I actually got to cook, making it rather different from the last 16 (16!!) weeks I’ve spent at Leiths…Although Monday was the only day I actually cooked, I guess the fact that it was an all day cooking session (aka 9-5pm in the kitchen instead of our usual 3 hour session) makes up for this. One perk of all day cooking is that I got to eat the dish above for lunch – despite being it was a bit cold by the time I’d finished washing up and got to it it certainly beats a sandwich.The morning was spent trying to get the bulk of the work done before tiredness really set in and so our main afternoon task was filling and glazing the fruit tarts above. The pastry was super fragile, particularly in the tiniest tart which was smaller than most of our little fingers so it was quite a relief to get 4 unscathed tarts out at the end! My glazing still needs work to be a little less blotchy – as the last task in a long day I think I was probably more haphazard than I should have been!All this term a different group of 4 has been taking it turns to cook a 2 course meal in 3 hours for the opposite class, which has meant lots of lovely free lunches for us all! Friday was the big day this week as my groups turn finally arrived. I was gutted that I wasn’t allowed to cook on account of being ill the day before so I basically did any job that didn’t involve being near the food – washing up, tidying, fetching, organising and setting the tables! We went for a take away theme, as you can hopefully tell from the picture below, so our menu was: harrissa chicken wraps (making 50 tortillas from scratch takes a heck of a lot longer than you might imagine) with sumac wedges, guacamole and salsa rosa followed by triple chocolate cheesecake with raspberry coulis. Our only slight drama was when we had served on time only to be told that our diners would be 10minutes late. Cue 50 takeaway boxes full of wraps and chicken being rushed off the tables I’d just laid them all out on and back into the warming oven…where they promptly started to melt! Luckily we got them out in the nick of time and everyone seemed to really enjoy their meal. I owe a massive thank you to my team-member Rhian who had do the whole Tesco shop on her own when I was ill (no mean feat when buying for 50) and a general thank you to both Oli and Rhian for being so supportive and continually imploring me to sit down whenever I still felt a bit rough! Despite not being able to cook with them and feeling pretty rubbish all day I am still so proud of our group and it was one of my favourite days at Leiths so far. Bring on week 8!
Sunday, 2 March 2014
Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Week 6. Talk of being halfway through the course has been and gone, to be replaced with talk of exams…despite them still being 4 weeks away. Whilst exam fear slowly sets in, the cooking continues…I feel like every week I say have a new nemesis in the kitchen but this week I really did: turning vegetables. Taking a round carrot, making it square, then making it an even 7 sided barrel. I’ve never been a patient person and this definitely tested me as my slightly lopsided carrots above show! Thankfully learning potato rosti saved the day – anything cooked in that much butter has to be good!This week’s main challenge was tunnel boning a leg and shoulder of lamb. Essentially this involves getting a bone and joint out of the piece of meat in one piece without opening up the meat – picture digging the Channel Tunnel, our teacher said. It’s always nerve-wracking if even the teachers admit it is hard and so it was a very welcome surprise when it actually turned out to be satisfying! Half an hour of innuendo and butchery later and it was much more enjoyable than jointing a chicken ever was. We used cuts from the shoulder to create our own dish, hence the lamb on spicy tomato and butterbean stew above. Five months ago I wouldn’t have imagined myself saying things like ‘perhaps a basil oil would have brightened up the plate’ but it appears I do now! By a Friday afternoon sometimes you’re not quite thinking straight…which may be how my fab roast partner Rosie ended up dipping green beans in citrus sugar syrup instead of gravy and I have a brand new burn on my wrist, to replace the burn that had just faded in exactly the same place. Nevertheless we managed to get our truffle pasta, stuffed lamb roast dinner and citrus cake all served so we could focus on the bigger issue: how to take a cake, half a roast, a whole raw shoulder of lamb, pasta dough and a weeks worth of chefs whites home on the bus. Bring on week 7…
Sunday, 23 February 2014
This cake is perfect for an almond fan like me. Can’t find a way to get them into the actual sponge? No biggie, just chuck a thick caramel drenched layer of them on top instead. Problem solved. The name alone tempted me to this cake – both the Scandinavian version (Toscakaka is too much fun to say) and the English translation. Caramel, almond and cake are 3 great words on their own but put them all together in one recipe and I knew I was in for a treat. I was proved right whilst making the butterscotch sauce to coat the almonds, when I had to be highly restrained because ohmygoodness it smelt and tasted incredible! The end result is quite a dense cake, almost Madeira-like in texture, with a thick crunchy and sweet layer of almonds packed on top. Surprisingly, considering the amount of butterscotch involved, this cake is not very rich and worryingly easy to have more than just the one slice. You can find the recipe here – I didn’t make any changes except from not including any vanilla or coffee in the topping because, well… I forgot. Enjoy!
Saturday, 22 February 2014
Week 5 of 10 this term – no more avoiding the fact that I am definitely half way through the course now. Where does time go? I’m beginning to wish this was a two year course. Here’s how week 5 went…This was the first week that we got to be creative – choosing our own accompaniments to the duck and cherry sauce dish from a list of ingredients. I’ve got so used to following strict recipes and curriculums to the letter that it felt quite strange to have a bit more free reign this time. As it was our first time I kept it simple doing braised spinach and little garlic roasted potatoes. The potatoes tasted good but as my teacher pointed out ‘if you’re going to do potato cubes, you need to do potato cubes’…more knife skill practice needed! This week saw the return of flaky pastry! And another chance to be creative as we chose our own tart toppings. There’s something even more intimidating when presenting your own dish as it’s an extra aspect to be judged on but I was quite pleased with how these dinky onion, red pepper and feta tarts turned out, again a relief after spending two days making the pastry base!Week 6 could also be known as soufflé week, with 3 soufflés in the kitchen sessions and a whole soufflé demonstration. Soufflés are one of those dishes that seem to have a circle of fear around them, regarded as being notoriously tricky and temperamental. That’s one of the aspects I love most about Leiths – they take dishes that I’ve always avoided trying and break them down to seem much less scary and ensure that I understand exactly why they can be so finicky to make. 3 different soufflés later and they seem a little bit more manageable!We cover so much in a single week at Leiths and get feedback on every aspect of every dish, so it can be hard to see the bigger picture and get a bit of perspective. Sometimes it’s difficult to feel like I’ve progressed at all but the dish above – sole bonne femme with chanterelles, pastry fleurons, spinach and microherbs – showed me that perhaps I have achieved something in my four months at cookery school after all! I know there’s no way I would have been able to make anything like this back in October and whilst (of course) there were aspects that could have been better it was still immensely satisfying to make this dish! Bring on week 6.
Sunday, 16 February 2014
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Puff pastry is one of those ingredients that I never manage to use up all at once. There is always a little bit at the end of the packet, tucked up and put back in the fridge…and then normally forgotten about until it’s too late. Leftover carrots, the end of a mozzarella ball and spare egg whites also fall into this category. Well, I’m still working on being better with those last three but I can safely say there will be no more sad bits of puff pastry languishing in my fridge in the future!I used the end of the flaky pastry I had made at school to make these – after spending 2 days making it from scratch there was no way this was ending up in the bin. I’d seen the original French Onion Puff recipe on Joy the Baker and knew it sounded good, but I felt a bit decadent buying and using a whole packet just for little canapés. I’m so glad I got round to trying them because the recipe did not let me down. Crispy pastry filled with sweet caramelised onions and melting cheese – a few of these still warm from the oven alongside some salad made the perfect lunch. And the rest made perfect afternoon snacks…I followed the recipe fairly loosely, halving it to suit my smidge of pastry (I still got 10 little puffs) and using half a mug of vegetable stock instead of wine, but to be honest I think it’s easily adaptable to any quantity of ingredients you have. These would make a very popular canapé as you could make them ahead easily and just bake them off at the last minute – just be warned you may need to make a few more than you need as they are very addictive! You can find the recipe here – enjoy.