Saturday, 30 November 2013

Leiths: Week 9

Week 9 and also the last week of the term! I cannot believe that the Foundation term is already over, especially as this means that I’m a third of the way through my course. As much as I did enjoy secondary school, this is definitely the first time that I’ve been truly sad at the end of a term and our class was all saying we would happily do another week or two! My next Leiths post won’t be until mid-January when the Intermediate term starts (scary thought!) so normal baking blogging can be properly resumed in the meantime. Until then though, here’s everything that happened in my last week of term…
· We started the week by plucking and drawing (as in, gutting) a whole pheasant. As you do. This was definitely the most intense meat experience of the term and pushed the slightly more squeamish members of our class (me included) to our limits. Whilst it was a bit graphic and ‘pungent’ at times, it was also satisfying to understand more how meat gets from the field to the table which is an important lesson as a meateater. However, I do have to admit that after seeing the transformation our pheasant had gone through I couldn’t quite bring myself to tuck in and was more interested in our game chips accompaniment!
IMG-20131126-01087· This week we also cooked a proper Indian feast in our groups of four and what made it extra special was actually getting to sit and eat it together in the kitchen, just like when we made brunch. The fried breads you see on the left of the picture above are called methi poori – discs of dough that puffed up when deep fried – and were dangerously addictive! I’m normally a bit of a spice wimp (a korma kind of girl) but I loved the super spicy lamb rogan josh. The date chutney was really unusual and one of those things I just couldn’t decide whether I hated or really liked – it tasted to me a bit like a spiced sticky toffee pudding. Is that a bad thing? I still can’t decide!IMG-20131128-01092· With the Christmas party season rapidly approaching, our final demonstration being on canapes seemed very appropriate. Our teacher admitted that no matter how many complicated, unusual or innovative canapes you create, sausages always remain the most popular canape that disappear instantly – a fact that was proved at the canape party held for our year at the end of the day. I think my favourites were the little spinach and feta filo pastries and also the mini pavlova which won for just sheer adorable factor. It was the smallest thing I’d ever seen! IMG-20131129-01105· We ended the week by decorating our Christmas cakes. We have been working on these for the last few weeks now – baking, feeding, marzipaning and icing several times so we’re all quite protective over them! To put it plainly, my sister is the one with artistic skills in my family so I knew it would be best if I kept my cake design rather simple. I saw this tree made of stars design here on The Pink Whisk and adapted it slightly for my own cake – adding more stars and spraying them with edible gold spray for a bit of Christmas glitz and sparkle! It was a bit fiddly for someone occasionally lacking a bit of finesse but I was really happy with the way it turned out in the end. If you search Leiths School of Food and Wine on Facebook they have photos of lots of the finished cakes – designs ranged from Banksy drawings to ice skating penguins to the London skyline to gingerbread houses and many more. The next day we had our theory exam, charity lunch & raffle and that was it! Just my practical exam to go (eek). I’ve loved the Foundation term and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it so bring on the Intermediate term in 2014!IMG-20131129-01106

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Leiths: Weeks 7 & 8

Quite an eventful fortnight! From the lows to the highs, the pastry to the roasts, here’s what went down…
· Midway through Week 7 was one of our most memorable demonstrations yet – Game! Walking into the dem room and seeing 2 pheasants hanging from the ceiling was an indication of how the session was going to go…It was really interesting to see and try meats that I haven’t tried before such as pheasant and partridge, and learn about classical accompaniments that I also hadn’t seen before such as Fried Crumbs – literally just breadcrumbs fried in butter and served in a heap with pheasant! The most memorable aspect, however, was woodcock. Woodcock is a small game bird and the indication to be worried was when even our normally total food-enthusiast teacher was not keen. To sum up, woodcock are roasted with their ‘entrails' still inside them, which then melt and are spread on toast and served with the roast. Yep. If you imagine that woodcock are small birds that were probably killed on a rainy October day then that is exactly what it tastes like: damp bird. Not something I’d race to try again but interesting nevertheless!

IMG-20131126-WA000· There was an exciting development this week: we were upgraded to a Magimix whilst pastry making! So far we have always had to make pastry the traditional from scratch way, using cutlery knives to rub the butter into the flour. Although a bit laborious to begin with, it means we have a proper understanding and ‘feel’ for the pastry and the various stages. Still, it was definitely exciting to make the apple tarts above in a fraction of the time as we whizzed the flour and butter together in a few seconds. The lengthy bit came when the pastry was done, as we had to practise rolling perfect circles without using a cutter…harder than it sounds I promise! That darn pastry was just determined to roll itself into a square.
DSC_0031                  Soda Bread served at our buffet, not made by me but so pretty!  

· On Monday of Week 8 our cookery session was held in mock exam conditions which meant essentially meant silence, particular focus on timing and temperature and no help from teachers. It was quite surreal at the beginning having to walk in in silence and only weigh our own ingredients rather than the usual chat and hubbub as we help each other by one person getting all the flour, one getting all the butter etc. On the menu was Vichysoisse soup and pan fried sole with warm tomato caper dressing and crushed potatoes. It started well, but sadly the day went rapidly downhill for me. I won’t go into every detail but let’s just say the words ‘your soup is almost chewable’ are ingrained in my memory forever…I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t the most motivational start to the week but at the same time it did make the following days seem 10x more fun than normal because they definitely couldn’t be worse! Ah well, onwards and upwards.DSC_0059· Happily, I ended Week 8 on a complete opposite to the way I’d started. Week 8 was also known as Buffet Week as we were in groups of 8 cooking a buffet for 32, with each group cooking on a different morning. This meant we were very lucky and got to eat gorgeous buffet lunches everyday for a week! My group was the last of the week meaning there was lots of pressure following some delicious and beautiful dishes and our teacher expecting us to learn from everything we’d seen! I was in charge of one of our 2 desserts (we had 8 dishes in total) which was the mini pavlovas you see above. Cooking for 32 is the biggest I’ve ever done and compared to the half recipes we normally do in class the quantities felt very strange – 12 egg whites and 600g of sugar for the meringues, over a litre of whipped cream, 18 egg yolksfor the creme anglaise etc.! It was really enjoyable getting to cook our own food for a change and have complete free reign as we designed the menus and presentation. My team worked well together and were very happy with the final result. The pavlovas were topped with orange cream, pomegranate and berries and a slice of bruleed orange which was especially delicious! Bring on week 9.DSC_0058                        Caramel Apple Tart made by my dessert duo buddy Rosie!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto

Pasta with tomato sauce could easily be a desert island dish for me. I know it’s not that exciting and doesn’t exactly take much skill but I don’t mind. That’s part of it’s charm and appeal! It’s my ultimate comfort food after a day of ‘chewable’ soup at cookery school (more of which on Sunday), the meal I make when I have no time, the meal to line your stomach before a night out, the meal for when there’s nothing in the fridge. The meal for when I’m tired, a storm is brewing outside and Downton is on (hello last Sunday evening). But, much as I love it, it’s not the most interesting dish to share on the blog and even I need a change (however small) once in a while. Enter, tomato and mozzarella risotto. DSC_0088Obviously this contains all the the things that make pasta and tomato sauce great: carbs, cheese, tomato, a bit of herbage. Just in a way that makes it a little bit different and makes me feel like I’m doing some actual cooking! This recipe uses the same method as a basic risotto, just with the addition of a tin of tomatoes to the hot stock. Although it was only one tin, the resulting tomato flavour was surprisingly intense but I suppose you could add a blob of tomato puree as well to boost the flavour even further. I loved the final result – the strings of melting mozzarella, soft rice with just a little bit of bite left, sweetnesss from the onions… exactly what I needed! And fancy enough to serve to friends too. You can find the recipe here – funnily enough, right underneath a recipe for pasta and tomato sauce…DSC_0092

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Leiths: Week 6

6 weeks! That’s a half term or whole school summer holiday in my brain, still slightly stuck in secondary school mode. No half term break at cookery school though, just a 3 day weekend to give us a slight breather. So, what happened in week 6?

· This week brought a new winner for the title of Most Strongly Scented Thing To Bring Home On The Bus. Despite heavy competition from warm pizza on Friday, the mackerel recheado (containing 12 chillies) of week 3 has lost it's crown to the dry spice mix I took home on Tuesday…and can definitely still smell in my bag today. To me, it smells exactly like a branch of Wagamama which is not necessarily a bad thing but definitely got people looking round the bus expecting to find someone tucking into a takeaway. Nope, just me and 50g of freshly ground spices!

· Wednesday was a prime example of the extreme nature of cookery school – healthy eating demo in the morning, then making crumble, custard and deep fried plaice goujons in the afternoon. From a morning based around avoiding/reducing salt in your diet, to an afternoon of sprinkling it all over every breadcrumbed and delicious piece of fish. The cooking session made me way less scared of deep frying which could actually be a bad thing as now I kind of just want to deep fry everything…

· From the great high of the plaice goujons to the low that was Thursday. Don’t cook whilst tired, kids. Who knew cooking pork tenderloin would be the thing to push me over the edge? I managed to set fire to things. Twice. One of those being my oven gloves, with my hand inside. Luckily although I was completely oblivious to it happening my teacher noticed me in time, whipped it off and stamped it on the floor and thus nothing happened to my hand. But still. Not ideal! Especially when followed 10 minutes later by accidentally setting the piece of paper intended to keep my pork warm firmly alight. That was when I left the kitchen for 5 minutes – slightly concerned by what might happen next if I didn’t take a break! I think it taught me that cookery school is just a bit of a rollercoaster full of mainly good, some great, and then the odd bad days.

· In contrast, you know it's going to be a good day when your morning starts by blind taste testing 5 vanilla ice creams. We were trying them to examine the different textures, flavours and appearances and therefore effect that dairy, fat and air have on the final result. They were all shop bought and it was interesting to see how distinctive different brands were – the bright yellow of Walls and creamy vanilla flecked Green & Blacks were instantly spotted. These were followed by more from scratch ice creams and a selection of jellies and it was definitely an enjoyable way to spend Friday morning and round off the week! Bring on week 7.

                         Plaice goujons and lemon wedge – highlight of the week!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Leiths: Week 5

Over 5 weeks have now passed of my Leiths Diploma! It feels a weird combination of week 1 being ages ago, but also wondering how the weeks have passed in such a flash. The fact that I’m now in the 2nd half of the first term is terrifying! Here’s what happened in week 5…

· It wasn’t exactly the healthiest week: Tuesday’s cooking session was one long sugar high with both lemon meringue pie and swiss roll on the menu, followed on Wednesday with possibly one of the best dems so far: deep frying. Sitting in the dem room as plate after plate of different deep fried food was passed round – fish, chips, tempura, goujons, beignets etc – was one of those pinch yourself moments. I’m trying to convince myself that since we only have mouthfuls of each dish it won’t be too bad for me, but I guess we’ll have to wait a few more weeks to work out exactly what effect the cookery school diet is having!

· Jointing a chicken into 8 perfect and even pieces remains my nemesis. I practised at the weekend ready for making it again in class on Wednesday but I still hate it. Definitely been put off chicken for a while. It’s weird, at school I never would have been scared of the fact that I struggled with my Maths homework whereas the fact that I can’t joint a chicken properly scares me! I guess it shows that I care a heck of a lot more about cooking than I ever did about algebra… Nevertheless, I will keep practising and my freezer will just gradually fill up with a whole selection of chicken pieces!

· Thursday was our biggest challenge yet as we had our first day of all day cooking, rather than just our usual 3 hour session. We had to make stew, mash, 5 dishes for a brunch at 12 and ├ęclairs in the afternoon. The morning passed easily (if very busily) and we got to sit and eat our brunch in the kitchen on our tables, rather than having to hurriedly grab a few bites and bin or clear away. Food never tastes quite the same after it’s been chucked in a tupperware or sandwich bag and carried down a few flights of stairs, so this was definitely a treat! After an all too brief lunch break it began to hit us that we still had a good 3 hours left of rushing round the kitchen rather than sitting peacefully in a demo! We were all a little bit delirious and exhausted by the end of it, but it was actually really fun and definitely brought us closer together as group. Also, new found respect for professional chefs who do much longer than 9hour shifts, day after day!
· Our next big challenge will be cooking an 8 dish buffet for 32 people – a task that currently feels very daunting but luckily is not for a few weeks yet, so I still have time to work on my speed and various other skills that need polishing! Chicken jointing, I’m coming for you. Bring on week 6!