Sunday, 27 October 2013

Leiths: Weeks 3 & 4

It appears a month at cookery school has passed already! Here’s what’s been happening during the last fortnight…

· At the end of week 3 we had our first test! I think the teachers were slightly bemused by how scared we all were but the first 3 weeks had gone past in such a flash and blur of information that the thought of a test on everything we had learnt was definitely a scary one. In the end it was only a very short theory test. After recently finishing A Levels and the essays and 2hour long exams that come with them it was quite surreal (but definitely more enjoyable) to be answering questions on stock making, meringues and oven temperatures!DSC_0114
                                 Victoria Sandwich filled with Lemon Curd · This week we started wine lectures. Mine were in the morning, which meant tasting four wines before midday on a rainy Thursday – another surreal but enjoyable cookery school experience. Having only turned 18 in June wine is a subject I couldn’t know less about, and it was a bit daunting sharing a classroom with people older than me who were a lot more confident. But the classes were really interesting and I learnt a heck of a lot in just two sessions – we covered grape types, regions, body and sweetness, pairing wine with food and more. I even found a wine I liked! Our wine exam is next week – wish me luck!
DSC_0121                                       Smoked Salmon and Dill Quiche
· This week we made Christmas cakes, bringing a little bit of early festive spirit to west London. The smell of 16 Christmas cakes (stocked full of beer soaked fruit) all baking in one kitchen is pretty incredible. Now we begin the feeding process – not eating the cake (sadly) but giving it a drink of alcohol every week until December before we marzipan and ice it. I’ve chosen amaretto to feed my cake with and I'm pretty excited to taste the final result! DSC_0007                          Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce and Whipped Cream · Our skills were stretched with new techniques this week as we learnt to fillet a fish and joint a chicken into 8 even pieces. I enjoyed filleting a lemon sole (despite them being the slimiest fish delivery the school had ever seen) but jointing a chicken is definitely going to take some practice. Just as well we’re doing it again on Wednesday then! Next week is also our first time cooking all day – making a full brunch, beef stew, mash and coffee ├ęclairs. It feels slightly daunting at the moment but at least we’ll all be in it together, so bring on Week 5!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Pear, Almond and Amaretto Tart

As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, starting cookery school has had an effect on my weekend baking. I often have the kitchen to myself during the weekend so I can potter around, Radio 1 blaring, baking, humming and making a bit of a mess. Last weekend was the first time I had properly cooked at home since starting Leiths and it was strange (in a good way) to be in the kitchen on my own without being assessed, in a dress and jewellery not chefs whites, with a dishwasher not a sink and scourer, and just my hunger levels instead of a service time and waiting teacher dictating my speed. It was definitely enjoyable being relaxed again whilst baking but at the same time I’ll admit I missed some of the camaraderie of my group all cooking and chatting together. Cookery school has, of course, had positive impacts on my baking – I’m more organised (‘mise en place’ is our mantra), probably faster and more efficient in my timing. Those daily time plans are not going to waste! My weekend baking also gave me the chance to practice some of my skills I’ve been learning: starting with pastry.DSC_0081My Mum sent me this Lorraine Pascale recipe a while ago and it sounded right up my street – you know how much I love almond flavoured anything. It also gave me the chance to use my rectangular tart tin which I have had for an embarrassingly long time without using and now that I’ve used it once I know it will become much more of a baking regular for me – the shape, particularly with this tart, make serving really easy and you don’t have to worry about slightly wonky or uneven slices like with a normal circular tart.DSC_0084But more important than shape is taste! Happily, this tart did not disappoint there either. It’s been ages since I’ve used amaretto and I loved the way its warmth enhanced this dish and emphasised the almond flavour. The frangipane stayed really soft with just a slight chew and crackle on the surface. My only slight issue was the pears – the recipe said to use either tinned or fresh and I chose fresh. However, mine were pretty unripe and didn’t really soften during baking so I think I would recommend tinned ones in future, for a reliably softer and slightly sweeter final result. Overall though this tart was still a winner – the only real problem being that the obvious serving option of a pear per slice makes it difficult to sneak a little bit more each time you walk past! You can find the recipe here – enjoy!DSC_0098

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Leiths: Week 2!

I promise more normal baking posts will be coming this week – I have been busy in the kitchen this rainy weekend! In the meantime, here’s everything that happened in week 2 at cookery school…
· This week I think the pace stepped up slightly, from chopping and dips last week to two or three dishes each session this week. It’s hard to get used to the teachers silently watching you from a short distance, Masterchef-style – I seem to immediately lose my kneading rhythm or forget what I was doing. Each week means a new kitchen and new table (we work in tables of 4) and my group this week really enjoyed working together. We made a solid team and managed to finish first on 4/5 days – definitely got to try and keep my pace up next week!
IMG-20131009-01038                                             Leek, Bacon and Parmesan Quiche
· Our focus at the beginning of this week was pastry. I’ve made pastry before but, to be honest, never really considered the best techniques or processes to ensure the best results. How things have changed! One step that initially threw me was the moment you add the liquid to the mixture – we have to shake and spin the bowl with one hand whilst simultaneously cutting in the liquid with a knife in the other hand. Phew. It's like patting your head and rubbing your stomach: not something I was ever good at. However, the thing I struggled with most was only being allowed to roll the pastry in one direction, to prevent overworking and stretching. I literally had to stand there reciting One Direction songs in my head whilst rolling my treacle tart and quiche pastries to stop me from just merrily going back and forth!
DSC_0077                                                        Caesar Salad
· This week I was cooking in the afternoon, which meant lots of freshly baked goods warm out the oven coming home with me. Rosemary focaccia and leek and bacon quiche are both rather hard scents to disguise on the bus, and definitely get you a few looks. Same with the box of very fudgy chocolate brownies on the Friday rush hour tube. Also, note to self: it's really rather difficult to get a treacle tart home unscathed after 2 buses and a 20 minute walk when it's just wrapped in clingfilm. Always remember Tupperware.
DSC_0105· Cooking in the afternoon obviously meant demonstrations in the morning. This was sometimes quite bizarre. We had a demo on roasting in which our teacher incredibly managed to make 3 full, different roasts with 3 different versions of all the trimmings in just 3 hours. Beef, chicken, pork, boiled and roast veg, potatoes, 2 sauces, 3 gravies, Yorkshires and more. Sampling mini versions of each roast dinner not that long after eating breakfast was quite a strange (but extremely delicious) experience! At the other end of the spectrum, sampling several different meringue dishes one morning left us all on quite a sugar high for the rest of the day. Bring on week 3!DSC_0110

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Leiths: Week 1!

This week, I started cookery school! From 9-5, Monday to Friday, now until July 2014, I’m doing the Leiths Diploma in Food and Wine. I can already tell it is going to be an exhausting 3 terms with a huge amount to learn, but I’m excited to share my progress with you here at the end of each week alongside my normal posts. So, what happened in week 1?

· The first day felt like Christmas. Brand new knives with my actual initials engraved, loads of new equipment, new full chef’s whites to try on – the works. All our equipment was blobbed with nail varnish so we know whose is whose. I’m fully addicted to painting my nails and buying nail varnish, so the bare nails rule at cookery school is a challenge (I now paint it on as soon as I get home on Friday and take it off last thing on Sunday evening). So, getting to bring in a bottle to mark all my stuff made me embarrassingly happy. Also on the embarrassingly happy front – using my new peeler. It’s just so satisfying.
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· We cooked in the morning and had demos in the afternoon (although this swaps order every week). In my first proper cookery demonstration I was stunned by how much information we learn. Who knew there was that much to learn about eggs?! (And I get a strong feeling that we really only touched on the subject). It was so interesting though – a jam packed three hours of learning techniques, facts, figures and 8 different recipes. If you ever need to know the percentage of protein, fat and water in an egg yolk or how to prove a frying pan – I’m your girl. DSC_0073· There was a great moment in our second demo when our teacher casually asked ‘Does anyone watch Great British Bake Off?’ The whole room, that’s 48 of us, immediately chorused ‘YES!’. Our teacher laughed and said ‘Okay, have 2 minutes to talk about it’ and I have never heard the room so buzzy as everybody immediately turned to their neighbour to vent about the latest results, the bakes, the contestants – everything! It was very hard to bring us back to concentration again – definitely a great bonder in cookery school.DSC_0070· One of my most interesting experiences this week was making hummus. I’m not normally a big fan of hummus so tasting as we went along was tricky as I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for! When our teacher tried it, she added a hefty pinch of salt and told us to try it again. It had made such a difference! Whereas before it had been fairly bland, suddenly you could taste all the other flavours we knew we’d added such as cumin and cayenne pepper. She added another pinch and we tasted again and again it was completely transformed! Seasoning is definitely going to be an on-going lesson and salt may just become my new best friend.DSC_0067                 Arranged fruit salad on mango & passion fruit coulis · I once read someone describe Leiths as feeling like the safest place in the world. Whilst I can’t quite say that yet (mainly due to insanely sharp new knives and searingly hot metal saucepan handles) I can definitely say it is a bubble. After spending the day there – cooking all morning, talking about what you cooked all morning all lunch break, and then in a demo all afternoon about what you’re going to cook all morning tomorrow – it becomes pretty easy to forget that there is a world outside where perfect food is not the centre of the universe. I sit on the bus home and look at people in business suits or school uniform and I'm like what? You mean you haven’t also just spent 3 hours batoning veg? Your carrots are still round, not in perfectly 1cm square x 6cm long sticks? I don’t understand? Bring on week 2.