Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 9

Feels very weird to be writing this. Advanced Term, Week, 9. Aka my last week at Leiths! Ok, technically I still have two more weeks of exams, graduation and one last fun group cooking task to go but I have had my last curriculum, written my last timeplan and had my last normal dish marked. It feels very surreal to be writing this and know that I won’t be writing ‘Bring on week 10!’ at the end. The last nine months have been a whirlwind, a rollercoaster, a journey and all the other X Factor style clich├ęs out there. In fact, the ‘lasts’ all seemed to come in a hurry without warning and I don’t think it has really sunk in that my year of cooking is all but over and I only have two more sessions in the Leiths kitchen – one to cook a 3 course dinner party (that last group task) for 8 and one the dreaded practical exam. I don’t want to get too mushy and I have one more Leiths post planned, looking back at the last year, so here is what week 9, the last week, held for us…photo 1 (28)Making my own pasta was one of the things I was most excited about doing when I started Leiths so it seemed quite fitting that it was there again in my final week. This was a chicken and wild mushroom ravioli with broad beans, morels (we got a bag of morels each, each costing £22!) and Madeira cream sauce. The chicken filling meant a return to the dreaded mousseline making but after learning from previous goes (don’t skimp on the egg white, blitz heavily before sieving) it was much easier than fish quenelles, and much tastier too. I’m really going to miss the chances Leiths gives me to cook dishes like this – I don’t know how often I’ll just casually make my own ravioli at home. Hopefully remembering how much I liked this dish will be the push I need to make it a more frequent event. photo 2 (30)Our last week at Leiths ended with a bang – our craziest all day cooking session yet where we entered the kitchen at 9:45 and didn’t stop or leave until 4:30 that afternoon. We kept meaning to leave for lunch, but suddenly it was 2pm with a service time of 3pm and we all realised a break just wasn’t going to happen. After a morning of foie gras parfait (delicious until you eat too much and feel sick…), baking brioche and clearing a Sauternes jelly, the focus switched to our creative rabbit dish. This was essentially the savoury version of the plated dessert challenge as we were each given a whole rabbit, a list of ingredients, a service time and told to get cracking! After much deliberation (I really wanted to try a black pudding and rabbit Scotch egg) I made: a braised rabbit, pancetta and thyme pie, parma ham wrapped rabbit loin, potato puree, baby carrots and red wine jus. Aside from one forgotten pan disaster (when my teacher was thankfully out the kitchen) I was really pleased with how this dish turned out. It was busy but I served on time, my seasoning was the best I’ve done in a while and I finally got a chance to have a proper go at a potato puree so it was a lovely way to end. We got to tour the kitchens again once everyone had served and there were a huge range of ideas – one other pie, pastas, a variety of Scotch eggs, croquettes, mousselines and more. As someone said, we have come a long way from the hummus and crudites on Day 1 back at the start of October. Bring on…the summer?!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Salted Caramel Brownie Sandwich Cookies

My Mum sent me the link to this recipe with just the subject title ‘Oh My Word’. Which is slightly alarming in the few seconds before the link loads, but once I had seen exactly what she was talking about, I replied instantly: ‘OMG’. The conversation continued in a similarly monosyllabic style: ‘Blog?’ ‘Definitely.’ With a recipe title like this one, what more can you say?!photo 4 (20)Fast forward three days later and these cookies were cooling in my kitchen. I was nervous they would not live up to our high expectations but I needn’t have worried. You can’t really go wrong with this much chocolate and caramel! The cookies are exactly like the edge pieces of my favourite Nigella brownie recipe – chewy on top but still slightly fudgy in the centre. I think the trick with the filling is to be brave with the salt because a hefty pinch sprinkled on top of the caramel really brings out the flavours and stops it being too sickly. photo 3 (19)The cookie mixture is quite runny – 300g of chocolate to 50g of flour – which makes it tricky to get perfectly even circles, but somehow every biscuit still ended up with a suitable partner. I adapted the recipe a bit to suit the ingredients I had, but it seems versatile enough to continue playing about with – you could use dulce de leche instead of making the frosting or add white chocolate chips to the cookies, for example. Before I tucked in, I sent a photo to my Mum to show her the results waiting for her at home. The reply? ‘Ooohhhh.’ Which sums them up really – enjoy!

Salted Caramel Brownie Sandwich Cookies adapted from this recipe

Ingredients: 100g dark chocolate, chopped
250g milk chocolate, chopped
40g unsalted butter
2 eggs
150g soft light brown sugar sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
50g plain flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon baking powder, sifted

Caramel filling: 165g caster sugar
60ml water
125ml double cream
150g unsalted butter, chopped
sea salt flakes, for sprinkling

1. Start with the caramel filling. Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat and stir occasionally with a wooden spoon handle until the sugar is dissolved.
Increase the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals clinging to the edge of the pan. Boil – without stirring – for 5-8 minutes until deep golden.
3. Remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and butter. Return the saucepan to the heat and stir until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until completely cool and firmed up.
4. For the cookies, p
reheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Place 200g of the milk chocolate, all the dark chocolate and the butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir frequently, until melted and smooth. Set aside.
5. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in an electric mixer and whisk for 10 minutes until paler and creamy. Gently stir through the flour, baking powder, chocolate mixture and remaining 50g of milk chocolate and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
4. Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper, allowing them room to spread. Bake for 8–10 minutes or until puffed and cracked. Allow to cool completely on trays.
5. Whisk the firmed up caramel mixture.  Spread half the cookies with the icing, sprinkle generously with the salt and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Makes 12 sandwiches.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 8

It would be impossible to count the amount of skills I’ve learnt over my past year studying cooking at Leiths. From the basics of chopping an onion properly, to the complex rules of croissant dough to filleting fish and gutting pheasants – there’s been a fair few! This week was my penultimate week of normal cooking curriculum at Leiths and it definitely felt like we were ticking off the last few major skills…photo (20)On Monday we were transported back to a 1950s kitchen with some good old fashioned jam making. My mum loves making jam – hence our kitchen's jam cupboard – and actually made her own batch the day before me, so there is definitely a competitive blind tasting in the future. As my Mum is such a jam making fan herself, I’ve never had a go on my own so I turned up on Monday morning, jars at the ready, excited to give it a try. Whilst raspberry is my absolute favourite jam, the strawberry definitely smelt delicious whilst cooking – super sweet and summery. I didn’t realise you could make jam so easily on a small scale (I filled two jars perfectly with my amount) but now I know this I’d love to experiment with other flavours this 1 (27)It was like Great British Menu met Masterchef in the kitchen on Tuesday when creative cooking returned once again. This was probably our most ambitious creative challenge yet: designing a plated dessert that included a sabayon, parfait and puff pastry element. The long list of fruit, nuts, chocolate and alcohols available made choosing tricky. In the end I made a peach & blackberry parfait, peach mille feuille with amaretto sabayon, blackberry coulis and crushed honeycomb. I had to restart my sabayon (being too cautious with the alcohol prevented the structure forming properly) which added time pressure and left me not totally happy with the presentation. Normally this would be like a dream dish for me, eaten in minutes, but after two mornings working on it and with a heck of a lot of washing up to do, I didn’t even get to try it! photo 4 (19)This week also brought two tasks vegetarians might not be comfortable doing – killing and prepping our own crab and lobster. I didn’t know how I’d feel about doing this but as a meat and fish eater I think it would be hypocritical for me to not have tried. I was certainly nervous on seeing them but Leiths teaches us the fastest, most humane way to do it so it was all over quickly. Picking the cooked crab for the tian above turned out to be a much worse job in my opinion – I am not the most patient person and inserting a cocktail stick into every nook and cranny of the crab to get each flake of meat out definitely tested me! photo 3 (18)Thursday was an unexpectedly really fun day – definitely up there in my favourites. Who knew sausage making would be so fun?! I never expected making sausages from scratch to be part of the Leiths course but it was great to have a try and I haven’t felt so proud of a plate of food in ages! Also those caramel apples… heavenly. I doubt this will become a regular occasion in my kitchen (for starters I wouldn’t know where to find pork intestine for the casing…) but it was a great skill to add to the list. Bring on week 9!photo 5 (18)      A spot of baking to end the week – Friday’s Fougasse, made with a starter dough

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 7

Despite only being a 3 day week, Week 7 at Leiths still managed to cram plenty in. There were new skills, new ingredients, lots of delicious food and most importantly a new discovery about one male teachers’ jewellery tastes…photo 1 (26)The trouble with making your own Danish pastry dough is that you have to tend to it every 20 minutes, giving you very small amounts of time in which to get other things done. Or the perfect amount of time to make a prawn laksa! This was a surprise favourite for me – without the prawns it made a delicious fragrant noodle soup for dinner. The only thing that could have made it better was apparently a touch more fish paste to bring out all the flavours more. The trouble is, the jar of fish paste on its own smells like something that should be nowhere near any food. Even though this scent and flavour disappears when combined with all the other spices, it is difficult to be anything other than very sparing with it. More curry bravery needed!photo 2 (28)Terrines. Something I order at restaurants but have never thought to make at home. Until now! Our terrines demonstration showed that actually they can be fairly simple, really pretty and a great make ahead dish for a crowd. On Monday we were making a very traditional terrine de campagne – chicken liver, bacon, pork mince and pistachios all wrapped in bacon. For me, the star of the show was the sweet and sticky onion confit which made up for the fact that my terrine was a little soggy due to too damp onions…you live and learn!photo 3 (17)I don’t know why, but I really associate cooking scallops with Masterchef. Is it just me or is there nearly always a scallop starter in the final – normally a rectangular plate of 3 little scallops each sitting on a puree of some kind and topped with a dainty decoration? Bearing this in mind, I was excited to finally have a go at preparing my own. Having been sternly warned by our teacher that the scallops were expensive and therefore under no circumstances were we to muck this up – the pressure was on! Happily, the process of getting the scallops out of their shells turned out to be much simpler than I anticipated and actually really satisfying! Phew. photo 4 (18)After the depressing burnt croissant experience of week 4, I was determined that Danish pastries would not go the same way. They use exactly the same method, the only difference being the shaping and the introduction of fillings. I made the majority of mine frangipane filled and only one was cinnamon and pecan butter – a decision I regretted on trying it and discovering it was delicious! They made pretty monster sized Danishes but I don’t think anyone was complaining. It was fun to learn all the different shapes from the classic pinwheel to the plait, princess and one described by one male teacher as ‘looking like Egyptian jewellery’…naturally. Bring on week 8!photo 5 (17)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 6

There is no longer any escaping the fact that we are over halfway through this last ten week term. I found this to be a savoury and presentation based week with challenges ranging from snails to sweetbreads (such a misleading name) and as usual I am sad that I am one week closer to the end!photo 1 (24)The week started with a a creative cooking session – a sea bream, a list of extra ingredients and two hours to get cooking. Creative cooking pressure is different from day to day following the curriculum with new worries about being judged on imagination and creating something of ‘an appropriate advanced term standard’ but it’s also really fun to try something on your own. I made a courgette and lemon risotto, slow roast tomatoes and courgette chips to accompany my pan fried sea bream and it was fascinating to walk between the kitchens and see the huge range of dishes all created from the same ingredients. photo 3 (16)A tomato and mozzarella salad might not sound very advanced term, but sometimes simplicity is underrated. This probably ended up being my favourite thing we made all week! I think the main purpose of making this dish was to take advantage of the short asparagus season and also practice making two identical plates for a change. It was also a chance to practice preparing frisee lettuce – the weirdest ingredient where you only use the pale inner, slightly anaemic looking leaves and discard all the vibrantly green but also intensely bitter leaves. Also – slow roast tomatoes are my unexpected new addiction. So good!photo 4 (17)This week’s all day cooking focused on rehearsing skills – particularly for the above seared tuna, fennel, asparagus and radish salad and vegetable vinaigrette. We spent 45 minutes chopping vegetables into petit brunoise (miniscule dice) for the vegetable vinaigrette. This was faintly ridiculous (and depressing when the whole dish is eaten in about 5) but when you have teachers combing through your diced onion picking out diamonds and rectangles you become very determined to produce those perfect squares! I think speedy knife skills really show a professional chef so it was good to practice – but also a relief to get to use a mandolin for the 1 (25)Try as I might, on Friday I could not get my sablee aux fraises to stand straight (such problems). My teacher comes over (sadly post photo), gives it one adjustment and it was perfect ! Magic. There was more double trouble as again we served two identical portions, and this time there was more of a challenge to get two identical swirls of raspberry coulis. This tasted great at school (I still find raspberry coulis drinkably gorgeous) but a little less so by the time it had experienced a journey home (via the pub) in a plastic bag… Bring on week 7!photo 2 (27)