Saturday, 26 April 2014

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 1

Even just typing ‘advanced term’ makes me feel crazy nervous, excited and faintly ridiculous all at once. I still feel like I’ve only just started! Whereas previously the weeks seemed to stretch on endlessly, this term seems like a constant sad countdown to the end. One week down, nine to go. The shift was noticeable this week – from the demos (one modestly titled ‘Vegetable Garnishes’ included powders, foams and savoury sorbets) to the kitchen sessions, the motto was definitely ‘that’s the advanced term for you’…photo 1 (16)If there is one thing Leiths has taught me, it is how to love a salad. I lost count a long time ago of the amount of salads I’ve cooked here and the advanced term is going to be no exception, starting on the very first day with a duck and grapefruit offering. When we suggested what we thought were suitable service times for the dish our teacher told us hers…a good half an hour earlier than we’d planned. Welcome to the advanced term people! The best part was the rice noodles – we deep fried them and as soon as they hit the hot oil they instantly puff up, triple in size and turn bright white like magic – there were lots of startled ‘ooh!’s going round the kitchen as we each took our 2 (18)The middle of the week took a retro turn as we focussed on a whole dressed salmon. No little plated portions for one, these salmon were huge – weighing between 4-5kg each and costing on average £44 per fish. It was definitely an experience working with something so massive – we cooked them in metal drawer liners rather than pans (it took two people to lift them out) tied chopping boards together for them to lie on and filleted it like surgeons in an operating theatre with one person at each end of the fish. At the end of the day, after an enjoyable morning dressing them up, we each got to take 2kg of fish home. A lot of fishcakes, fish pies and curries have been enjoyed by Leiths students across London this week! tatin picstitchFlipping a pan upside down when it is full of something you have been making for an hour just feels plain wrong. That is the fun of tarte tatin for you. I had a crazy idea in my mind that I didn’t really like tarte tatin, probably having tried burnt and bitter ones in the past, hence the slightly stingy portion I served up. Happily, I was proved wrong because this was absolutely delicious – worth every moment of careful caramelising 5 (12)3 French classics were Friday’s task – dauphinoise potatoes, ratatouille & lamb noisette. Dauphinoise potatoes are probably my favourite way to eat potatoes – something with that much cream in can never taste anything but amazing. They also sparked debate in the kitchen – onion or no onion? How much garlic, if any? Cheese on top or bare? We were sticking, of course, to the Leiths recipe and in the end they made the perfect Friday lunch, onion and all. Bring on Week 2!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Egg Nest Cake

It would not be an Easter series if I didn’t do a bake involving mini eggs. There is something so addictive about them that I take full advantage of every Easter. This year it went a step further – it has taken a lot of willpower to resist buying these mini egg inspired nail varnishes and I doubt I’m out of the woods yet. So to celebrate the best Easter treat, this cake was made.DSC_0135I have been meaning to bake this cake for several Easters now but every time I never quite got round to it and spent the week after Easter looking at it and realising what a fool I had been. A chocolate cake, topped with chocolate cream, and finished with chocolate decorations? What is not to love.DSC_0134I’m so pleased I finally got round to making this. It was more than worth the wait and looks like it may well become a new favourite! The flourless chocolate cake base is dense, truffle like and rich. The chocolate cream on top is surprisingly light despite the hefty layer and tastes just like chocolate mousse. It goes without saying that the mini eggs were delicious, but this cake doesn’t need to be confined to Easter – swapping the mini eggs for raspberries and strawberries would lighten Love Cake logothe cake (a tad) and be amazing for a summer birthday cake. My tips for this cake would be to drastically under whip the cream – until it is only just beginning to hold its shape – because folding in the chocolate and spreading it over the cake continues to firm it up. I’ve also submitted this cake to April’s Love Cake event, where the theme is Springing into Easter. You can find the recipe here – enjoy!DSC_0147

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Some recent cooking adventures…

DSC_0128Bulgur wheat, pomegranate & tomato salad
DSC_0133Smoky roast poussin, hot red pepper puree, lemon griddled aubergine & bulgur wheat salad.
DSC_0128Griddled fennel with lemon
DSC_0151_thumb2Blood orange and cardamom sorbet.
The griddled fennel is from 'Plenty' by Yotam Ottolenghi. All other recipes from Diana Henry’s new book ‘A Change of Appetite’ – not sponsored, just enjoying cooking my way through this book!

Orange & Honey Torte with Mangoes & Passion fruit

I will only have butter on my toast. No jam, no marmalade, no Marmite or Nutella, no honey. I don’t know why, because I like most of these things in every other way (apart from Marmite), but I can’t stand them on toast. Really this just means that I have to get my honey fix in other, far more delicious, ways such as this summery torte… DSC_0141I don’t usually think of honey as a core flavour for a dessert. I’m sure I’ve added it to biscuits, cakes and flapjacks to add a bit of extra sweet and stickiness, but rarely used it as a main attraction. In this dessert blossom honey is combined with orange to make a really light version of a cheesecake – using just yoghurt and cream instead of any cream cheese. In my mind cheesecakes set with gelatine have a bad image of being overly firm and bouncy, but this is a really light set so it stays super creamy. Blanched almonds are added to the biscuit base (I used Nice biscuits because I thought the coconut would complement the other tropical flavours) which is such a simple idea but one I haven’t done before and was delicious – you know I’ll get almonds into anything somehow! My favourite part, however, was the accompanying fruit salad. Passion fruit instantly make me feel transported to a desert island and are without a doubt my favourite fruit. Combined with fresh mango and a sticky, ever so slightly spicy, ginger and lime syrup and I almost didn’t even need the torte. Almost. You can find the recipes here – enjoy! DSC_0146

Monday, 14 April 2014

Easter Currant Biscuits

I don’t have a very good track record of themed baking. Christmas I can cope with, as it’s basically stretched over a whole month and padded out by lots of days off. Other than that, I’m never good at remembering to bake for specific occasions – Halloween, St Patricks Day, Shrove Tuesday and Valentines Day (aside from the odd brownie) all come and go every year before I’ve had a chance to get the scales out. I wanted this Easter to be different so this post is the first of two fab Easter bakes!DSC_0088I didn’t know why currant biscuits are so tied in with Easter and the research I did gave several different suggestions – that they were given after Church on Easter Sunday in packages of 3 to represent the Holy Trinity, that the rich ingredients marked the end of Lent and fasting, that the tradition originated in the West Country – who knows! Recipes also differ with variations from county to county, so I stuck with Mary Berry. They turned out softer than I was imagining and slightly different to the crunchy Fruit Shortcakes you buy in shops but moreish and perfect with a cup of tea nonetheless. The only changes I made were to do half currants, half sultanas instead of all currants and I realised just after putting them in the oven that the zest of an orange would be a nice addition. You can find the recipe here (I only made the fruited half) – enjoy!DSC_0091`

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Chicken Tikka Masala

My Mum’s kitchen is one of the main advantages of living at home for me. Having a ‘flour cupboard’ of every flour you can imagine, or a row of labelled jars of different grains and a shelf in the larder stocked full of different Lidl dried fruit and nuts come in very handy when baking or cooking and is something I know I shall miss when I go to uni in October, no matter how much I may joke about it now. I find the lengthy ingredient lists for curries can be intimidating, but a search through the cupboards showed me that we already had everything needed to make this dish…apart from the chicken.DSC_0110A quick trip to Sainsburys later and this problem was solved and I was ready to get cracking! I wanted to make a curry from scratch to practice balancing different spices and flavours and also to have a go at making one of my favourite convenience dinners. My family have our Marks & Spencer ready meal favourites sorted: a moussaka for my Mum, pizza for my Dad and always a curry (and some sneaky Percy Pigs) for me. This recipe was from Sorted Food which is a group of guys who run a YouTube channel and website that I love – proved by the fact that I currently have 25 of their recipes bookmarked! This recipe intrigued me because you marinade the chicken in a spice paste and then add this to an onion base mixture containing several other spices, almost like making two separate curries and combining them halfway through cooking. The curry was spicy for a spice wimp like me, but nothing that an extra dollop of yoghurt or drizzle of cream couldn’t solve. I was really happy with the end result and, marinading time aside, it probably didn’t take too much longer than walking to Marks and back to pick up a curry. You can find the recipe here – enjoy!DSC_0114

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 10

The last week of our second term! After this Easter break only 10 more weeks stand in between me and the end of Leiths, a scary thought. It was difficult to concentrate this week with thoughts of impending exams on everybody’s minds, but still the cooking continued…photo 5 (11)With Easter rapidly approaching, it was only appropriate that our last baking task of the term was the classic hot cross buns. Or in my case, some hot cross and some hot stripy buns as I ran out of the paste mixture for the crosses halfway through, resulting in some slightly sad buns that were not photo worthy! Nevertheless they were fun to make and even more delicious to eat than normal, knowing the work that went into 3 (10)Our very last cooking session was spent cooking a Thai buffet in groups, hence the pile of som tam (papaya) salad above and roasted, marinaded salmon below. We proved just how much being a cookery school student has affected our appetite as we happily sat down to eat this full meal (which also included gyozas and a curry) at 3:30 in the afternoon. It was a really nice way to end the term – a relaxed cooking session and then getting to properly enjoy the meal afterwards, rather than everyone rushing off. The only downside was the extra washing up…but it was worth it!photo 2 (17)Boning a chicken, ice creams, sorbet, 3 types of soufflés, bavarois (I need a long break from bavarois’), turning vegetables, tunnel boning lamb, 4 new types of pastry, enriched breads, espagnole sauce, pasta from scratch, crème patissiere – these are just a few of the things I’ve learnt this term that I had no idea how to do 10 weeks ago. Two more weeks of Easter holidays to go, then back to the craziness of the cookery school bubble – bring on the Advanced term!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Almond Shortbreads

After a brief break, I find the easiest way to get back my baking mojo is to look to favourites for inspiration. Favourite flavours – anything almond. Favourite bake for quickest gratification – cookies. Favourite author for recipes that always work – Nigel Slater. These shortbreads couldn’t fail!DSC_0074These may look like fairly standard cookies, but they’re hiding a fairly delicious secret in the form of a soft marzipan filling. I’ve seen this concept before with shortbreads stuffed with chocolate or caramel but visions of leaking biscuits and dough soldered to trays with mounds of burnt sugar meant I’d never tried it. However I trusted Nigel and figured that a firmer filling like marzipan at least would not be anywhere as messy if spillage did occur. Luckily the recipe didn’t let me down and the result was delicious! The filling was not massively distinguishable from the rest of the cookie but ensured they all had a really soft, almost cake like centre. The only changes I would make if I were to make these again would be to leave out the lemon and add a few drops of almond essence to the shortbread mixture so that the flavours weren’t competing and the almond could really shine. Other than that, I can’t complain as these were very moreish and did not last long! You can find the recipe here – enjoy!DSC_0069