Thursday, 20 March 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 9

Week 9, the penultimate week of this term! Involving a new language, a Masterchef moment and another foray into mass catering – it was a memorable one.

I’ve spoken before about how long it took me to get to grips with chicken jointing. This week we took it up a notch – boning a whole chicken. Taking a chicken and then removing every single bone and tendon but leaving the meat and skin intact in one piece. I knew it would be a challenge the moment I had it explained to me and my slow (but hopefully steady?!) progress doing it in the kitchen on Monday only served to prove this. However, I did actually find it satisfying and almost made more sense to me than jointing did, so it is just a question of improving my speed! Plus, an impromptu fire drill just after my chicken came out of the oven meant it had time to rest without me being late for service! (14)

Learning to cook can sometimes be like learning a whole new language – a point highlighted by this week’s dessert of ‘bavarois, lebkuchen and tamarillos’. I don’t think I’d heard of any of these things before I started life at Leiths but I’m sure my life has been improved now I have. The honey bavarois reminded me of the hot milk and honey I drink when I’m ill…but in a really good way! Tamarillos are a South American fruit sometimes described as a sweet tomato and taste completely different raw and cooked. When raw, the skin is really bitter and leaves an unpleasant tannic aftertaste but once poached the centre softens and becomes jammy and sweet, like a raspberry candy. Delicious!photo (13)Wednesday was mock exam day and considering the (let’s be honest) debacle of my last mock exam it was a relief just to serve something vaguely edible – raw venison steak not included! My nerves were raised by the fact that I’d never cooked a venison steak or a fondant potato before – my only image of a fondant potato being from Masterchef and John Torode cutting angrily into still solid carb cylinders. Happily mine was fully cooked, if a little smushed (a highly technical term) and actually probably the least stressful element of the day. That award goes to soufflé making for when we opened our oven hoping to take our fully cooked, beautifully risen soufflés out just in time for service… only to find our oven had gone out and our soufflés were all still decidedly raw. Nevertheless a few deep breaths, a new oven and 15 minutes later and all was not lost!photo 1 (13)It seems only fitting for a cookery school to centre all social engagements around food, hence the canapé party for 200 people on Friday evening that the whole year cooked for during the day. I find something childishly entertaining about mass catering. There’s the quantities involved: 45 egg yolks and litres of cream for the crème anglaise, 3 whole bottles of pink champagne for jelly. Hunting the kitchens for the biggest bowls and whisks possible which make you feel like a giant and a dwarf at the same time. Counting out and dusting 220 tiny shotglasses for mini trifles (I was part of the days Trifle Trio with the fab Rosie and Dom) – it’s a whole new world. It’s also just immensely gratifying – seeing 200 people enjoying something you’ve made, no matter how small, is unsurprisingly incredibly rewarding and makes a huge change from just serving one plate to one teacher. Bring on week 10 – the last of this term!canapes

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 8

Week 8! From a meat feast Monday to a 4 component dessert on Friday, this week covered a lot.
We started the week with another all day cooking session different to the ones we've done previously in that everything was slow cooking so there was a lot to do at the start but then serving up was fairly straightforward after lunch - aka making the most of our energy in the morning and minimising the opportunity for mistakes when we were drained in the afternoon! The longest item on the meat focused menu was a retro steak and kidney suet steamed pudding which had to be steamed for 5hours. After all that time comes the scary moment of turning the puddings which point we found that all 4 of us on our table had waterlogged pies. This meant that water had got inside the pudding basin and made the pastry soggy and inedible even though the inner meat remains nice. Cue flashbacks to the steamed treacle sponge fail! This was quite frustrating because for 5hours you have no idea that your little pud is gradually going more and more wrong until there is nothing you can do. I guess you have to laugh at these things really and just learn from them! Plus the delicious famous Leiths flat ham pie and marinated pork belly we made more than made up for our fail and made a fab lunch and dinner for the next few 2 (12)                     Pork belly with peanut dressing, green beans and sugar snaps On Wednesday we made a hazelnut meringue cake with Melba (aka raspberry) sauce. The raspberry sauce was so so good I ate my ramekin-full that I had served alongside the cake on its own, with a spoon, there and then, and then quickly enjoyed my wonderful table buddy's when it was offered too. Didn't even need the meringue! I don't know why it was so good because it was just blitzed fresh raspberries with icing sugar but I couldn't get enough of it. And that was after a casual afternoon snack of the homemade spaghetti con le vongole we’d just made…vongoleandmeringueAfter a busy few days, we ended the week on a delightfully summery note: salad and ice cream! It was the first properly sunny day (dare I say it, it was even warm) which made for a lovely atmosphere in the kitchen on a Friday afternoon. I’ve really been enjoying making multi component desserts where we spread the work over 2 days and bring everything together at the end. I was a bit disappointed with the final look of my dessert (I panicked!) but the taste of the blackcurrant ice cream made up for that! It also made a perfect reward for the painstaking, fiddly work of pinboning herring for the salad starter…Bring on week 9! herringandicecream

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 7

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…photo 5 (7)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 2 (11)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!photo 4 (8)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!photo 1 (11)