Monday, 21 July 2014

Ashburton Cookery School: More Advanced Course - the whole shebang!

Team Extreme: What came next??
So I just ate an almost edible seatrout “timbale” with no signs of the fennel and orange salad by which it was apparently to be accompanied – followed by “seared” seabass with some thick yellow sauce and overcooked potatoes with sloppy fennel.  When you “sear” bass in a British Airways oven at 33,000 feet, the result is always going to be less than, erm, well “seared” …. And I’m not sure if it’s the bass or the oven that lends such a tinny taste at this height, but hey – they only said it was “packed with flavour at altitude” – not what flavour it was packed with!!!

Bit of a comedown really after adapting to such refined habits on the More Advanced Cooking course.  Same as most things over the past week really. Perhaps the biggest letdown has been the lack of a washer upper chez moi (other than moi)!!  Either that or the lack of a chef in a blue apron to rescue things when they’re not quite going to plan!! Or maybe both.
However, if you judge a course by how the participants put what they learnt into action back in their own kitchen – then this one really couldn’t score more highly!  Other than 2 days when I really couldn’t eat more than cheese on toast, here’s what I practiced so far:
·         Clingfilm – never have I got through so much clingfilm in 1 week! Or perhaps ever!  First I rolled up a scallop-crab boudin in parma ham (poached then gently fried) then a cabbage leaf roll filled with properly shredded cabbage (recipe per Nathan Outlaw, but with an added sprinkling of Chef Rob smokey bacon), then I made a roll-up with some hazelnut-herb butter, just to be sure.  Queen Sue of the clingfilm (self-proclaimed)!

Scallop and crab boudin, wrapped in parma ham.
·         Vac-packing pasta – oh yes, it really did work – my ravioli was very thin and flexible, I managed to make them all before the pasta sheets dried out, and they didn’t explode.  Also, I felt a bit edgy.

  •  Fish mousse - of course the filling for the pasta was the crab-scallop mousse, including blanched ginger, just to properly test the 3-step “blend the heck out of it – pulse carefully with just a bit of cream – beat rest of cream in with a spoon, cos only a muppet can f*** it up that way” approach.  I proved I am not a muppet, hurrah!!
Ravioli with crab and scallop mousse, "ratatouille" tarragon sauce, king prawns.
  •  Sabayon – heating my many-yolked ice cream custard JUST to the point where it started to thicken on the bottom of the pan, but didn’t scramble. No pressure!  Alright yes, I nearly burnt my nose by peering so closely into the pan, but I didn’t care, cos I held my nerve, and it worked!!
Szechuan pepper ice cream with grilled pineapple and pine nuts (throwback to advanced course!)
  • Gelatine – not only did I use some to stop my lovely cherry and almond sorbet from hardening to a block of bright pink ice, but also made a nice little set watercress cream – ok, so it wasn’t my idea, it was another Nathan Outlaw job – quite similar to the pea jelly, but with a splash of cream.  Since I left it in the fridge for quite a while, it set pretty well – until I put hot scallops on it of course, when part melted, and the rest stayed more jellyish, which was all a bit exciting.
Grilled scallops with hazelnut butter on watercress cream
  • Alcohol as a flavoring.  Now this one is truly me – and henceforth, all my sauces have a little splash of “something” just to finish … and my ice creams are all the better for an extra (!) splash of rum (Szechuan pepper, yes of course I tried it again!), or amaretto (cherry and almond, for sometimes I even make up my own recipes)! E14 kitchen now doubles as a cocktail bar – every hour is happy hour!!!
Mmmmm. Cherry and almond sorbet, amaretto soaked cherries, roasted almonds.
  • Chopping – I had another go at the chicken-bone chopping technique in order to make some stock – and employed same technique for getting thru the spine of a turbot! Proof it works is that I am currently typing with 10 digits, all my own!

Hurrah, my stock is proper - wibble wobble jelly posh turbot stock!

So, I think it’s fair to say that all in all this week has not seen the start of my diet.

Nor has it seen a whole lot of concentration on work – I maintain that little band of chefs put tiny electrodes on my head when I wasn’t looking, to empty it of everything other than cooking.  It’s like I was whisked away by aliens in a First Great Western spaceship, and dropped back to Londinium with no recollection of life pre-Gellan F!

So still plenty of things to go at yet – strangely for me, I’m now wriggling out of work trips and airmiles, to stay home and try out some more stuff, for instance:
  • Spherification  – both forward and reverse. Maybe curry oil spheres with that intermediate haddock recipe – or basil oil spheres with tomato salad. And could you do reverse chocolate goo spheres?? Ooh, or liquorice goo spheres, surely that’s possible??
  • Tuiles – a bit disappointed I didn’t get round to tuiles this week, they were starting to feel like chips (easy, cheap, and go brilliantly with everything!)
  • Pigs’ ears – if only to upset my sister who swears they are horrid and she won’t eat ‘em.
  • Smoking – the gun has not been back in action, but I’m going to do the brining chicken breast prior to smoking trick I scribbled down at one point!
Then there are sugar/isomalt spirals to perfect.  Unfortunately this little task will now be bittersweet.  I was taught this on the first ever cooking holiday I was brave enough to sign up for in 2006 – in the middle of nowhere in France, with gas hobs powered by big cylinders below, and ‘elf and safety just a vague idea.  I more than survived, and my sugar spirals were the dogs’! I learnt, among so many things, how to butcher a chicken, take the saddle out of a big hunk of lamb, fillet sardines, make a proper cassoulet (breadcrumbs‘n’all) – and perhaps most entertainingly how not to get into a clay-baked truffle-stuffed chicken with a hammer while a tad squiffy.  After the first experience, I went back a year later for a week of Thai cooking – where I was persuaded to try my first oyster, learnt that coriander tasted of soap and always will, and deep fried some whole bass on the dodgy gas burners, served with the best Thai relish I ever tasted. Still!  And on top of all that – when the rest of the group had retired to bed, I also learnt about ancient music, modern art, Catholicism and Carlos Ruis Zafon. 

The chef was Ross Burden – born the same day as me, died last week in Auckland, NZ.  The inspiration and enthusiasm he passed on and all the things he taught me are priceless! I’ll never forget.
Push on!


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Day 5 in the Ashburton Fusion Kitchen - Extreme Cooking, the final chapter!

Cooking extreme – the final instalment!
Awoke with a start today, due to sudden realization I had forgotten to place my thinly sliced radishes on my beef dish yesterday.  Evidently this would mean I had failed More Advanced Week, and would not be getting a certificate at the end of today.  Wiped tears away, and packed suitcase in shame.

Much twitter shenanigans had happened by the time I got up, reminding me that today would be foie gras terrine day – that’s if Chef Rob hadn’t really lost it, and Chef Darrin hadn’t really stolen it!

Our final day was kicked off by these two fine looking gentlemen – remind me when I see you, and I’ll see if I can point out which is Rob and which is John. Hohoho. I crack myself up.

Chef Rob and his new friend John D.
To start with we rolled yesterday’s now proved low-fat brioche into precise 75g portions, and lined up 10 balls of brioche in a tin.  Then chocolate ganache and a mascarpone-yoghurt-cream filling for afternoon macaroons. Unfortunately the ganache-making presented Chef Rob with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to us all how to rescue the mix if you happen to “muller it” … I think that is a technical bit of patisserie terminology.
With this in the bag, we knocked up a bit of fresh pasta dough in the blink of an eye.  I will probably have to do this again at the weekend, just to test Chef Rob’s assertion that vac-packing pasta makes it more pliable if you’re rolling out for filled pasta … course he’ll be right as always, but professional skepticism is my middle name. And also I like pasta.
Then finally we got our hands on JD!

Heeeeeere's John - spikes galore: "C'mon if you're hard enough!"
Tricky bugger to fillet is John - he really doesn’t want to be caught and/or eaten, so comes complete with suit of armour made wholly of spikes. No pressure! I not only learnt what I did wrong the last time I had a bash at filleting one and nearly lost a finger, but also managed to emerge with 10 fingers intact. This is a bit of a first.
In fact, now I come to think of it – just realized I didn’t need a single blue plaster this week. Call in Norris McWhirter to verify, tis a record-breaking feat! I used to have to call ahead when I was arriving, and request extra stock!!

Anyway, all this brought us to lunchtime – and OH MY WORD what a starter we had! The foie gras terrine, with port and marsala in and leeks running through it, was probably the best thing ever. The Sauternes jelly, smoked apple purée and walnut vinaigrette on a few mache salad leaves were the perfect foil. And it was all served with a lovely griddled slice of weightwatchers brioche, and a nice little glass of very cold Monbazillac. All in all, no calories at all, ever such a low-fat dish, and cheap as chips – so we all made a Twitter pact to have the same for lunch every Monday. Joining us Rob??

Foie gras terrine with marsala and port, studded with baby leeks - Sauternes jelly, smoked apple purée, mache leaves with a drop of walnut vinaigrette - served with toasted brioche and a little glass of cold Monbazillac. Yum!
Ding ding, round 2! No getting complacent now – get back in that kitchen and make some more cool stuff you ‘orrible lot. And with that, it was time for a spot of reverse spherification. Ok, so I admit, when asked by friends and colleagues what the course was about – this is the term I have casually bandied about, with a wink and a knowing manner. No of course I hadn’t a clue what it all meant – but turns out it’s a way of making a little sphere, with a film round the outside that bursts when eaten, releasing its liquid centre.  In this case – a little ball of mango, to be encased in a solid coconut gel!
Having set everything up for later, it was onwards to the macaroons, a bit more whipping  - and my best “AHA!” moment of the day. The trick to not ending up with a peak in the middle of the meringue when you pipe is so simple if only you know how – and I’ll tell you, free and for nothing. It’s to STOP piping, give it a second or two, then twist. With that bit of insider info, if my macaroon-mad niece doesn’t award me a lifetime achievement award for being cool Auntie Sue, then I don’t know what more I can do!! 
Anyway, back to more serious matters, macaroons in the oven it was on to the main course!  Having earlier succeeding in disarming John, it was now time to “go for Armageddon”.  This, I think, is another quite technical culinary term, used to refer to the finishing off/plating up moment!
First there was another amazing sauce to knock up – a fish stock reduction, involving smoky bacon, sherry vinegar, brown shrimps and tomato concasse, with a hint of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of chervil and parsley. Then there was spinach to wilt, fish to sauté carefully, a little added scallop to caramelize, and linguine to warm in the sauce. We needed 8 arms and 8 pans each, but made do with 2 arms each and 4 rings between us – a bit of careful planning paid off, me and Laura were so ON IT today! Hurrah!

Pan fried fillets of John Dory, "day old" spinach, a little linguine spiral, and a smoked bacon, sherry vinegar and brown shrimp beurre blanc.
Realization dawned we were now on the very last stretch, but in spite of all the weeping and wailing, we managed to finish off the final dishes of fried eggs and macaroons.

Coconut and mango fried egg!

With that, it was all over … and despite my fears, I was actually presented with my little certificate. Actually, I was secretly rather hoping Chef Rob would say my performance was rubbish, and insist that I would have to repeat the course again next week to deserve my certificate. Dammit!

So now I suppose there’s nothing for it but to go back to work.  Still, I reckon there might be one final blog left in me … in a week or so, just to give me an excuse to properly remember my fabulous week on the Ashburton More Advanced Course with Team Extreme! 
Team Extreme! L to R: Laura, Ann, Faye, Chef Rob, Darren, Jojo, and someone else.
Push on!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Day 4 in the Ashburton Fusion Kitchen! Extreme Cooking!

Cooking extreme – yep, still extreme!
I think only I can fully appreciate just how amazing was my start to today, but here’s what happened. So, usual start to my day is an alarm going off, me smacking it hard to make it snooze, followed by me bashing the stupid alarm again every 8 minutes until it gives in and I can sleep until I’m very very late for work. Today the alarm sounded, I thumped it – and turned over to go back to sleep. Then a thought crossed my sleepy mind … today would be pineapple tarte tatin with Szechuan pepper ice cream day! Big smile at the very thought, and I practically leapt out of bed!
Probably spent the rest of the day getting over early burst of energy to be honest … I bet I couldn’t totally obliterate a slice of pineapple the same again however hard I tried (“Please chef, can I have another?”), and over confidence with a bubbling caramel is never a good thing. After all that, I put myself on the veg “station” for the rest of the day, just in case. You can’t go all that wrong with a turnip.

However –before all that, we started the day by de-veining some foie gras, during which I thought 2 big thoughts:
  1. THIS is why cooking school is totally the business – how would I ever otherwise know you have to de-vein a foie gras (with a spoon handle), or even what a foie gras looks like in its “natural” state. Ok so maybe there was a chance I’d’ve decided to have a bash at home one day anyway, but oh how royally I would’ve screwed it up without knowing what I know now! 
  2. If you used my liver for this, it would come ready-marinated in red wine, port, and seriously enhanced by flavours of juniper …

Three de-veined foie gras half lobes ... to add to the one Chef Rob demonstrated a little more expertly! Bring on the terrine!
Next Chef Rob turned the veinless foie gras into an amazing looking terrine, and we made a lovely tasting Sauternes jelly, along with a walnut vinaigrette … all ready for tomorrow’s lunch. Yes, sometimes cooking school is designed purely to test one’s patience I believe.
Which reminds me – never has there been so much interest in a few bits of old beef!! You may remember that some lovely seared beef short ribs went into the bubble bath a few days ago, and with today the designated day for the eating, it seemed like the whole town of Ashburton was looking for an excuse to visit our little kitchen!
A simple spot of lunch
So, with tomorrow’s prep done, it was time for today’s lunch, and there were no cheese sarnies on THIS menu! First we blended scallops and oysters with a dash of cream and lime zest/juice to add vitamins, and then we turned it into a little boudin – otherwise known as a snausage.  I was allowed to handle the cling film machine, and actually managed to roll our mushed seafood into “perfect” “little” cylinders. This made me happy, and then we poached our “sausages” while we made a quite stunning tarragon vinaigrette style sauce vierge – incorporating little cubes of raw scallop and oyster. Yum.
Despite some general group consternation about texture and strong flavor of the sea, I reckon I might have a bash at this one again …. The more I ate, the more I relaxed and smiled.  And smiling is always a good indicator if you ask me.  However, it might take a bit of practice to make the sauce taste just like Chef Rob’s … but then any excuse for another go!
Scallop and oyster boudin with lime, tarragon sauce vierge emulsion ... wooo hoo!
Lazy afternoon
So our afternoon proceeded with the making of a brioche dough – it all looked very complex and sticky and very much like a mega bingo wing workout session.  But my co-chef being a bit of a baker, it seemed only right that she made the brioche while I peeled and faffed with lots of teeny veg, and roasted some in butter to make sure they was proper elfy.
Somewhere among all this, a fabulous Szechuan pepper ice cream was made, and we sorted some pastry for our tatins, while trying really really hard not to burn the caramel to go in them. The (new) slice of pineapple was griddled, and the tatin assembled – and then we made some pineapple fluid gel, just because we can.  Oh, and also did some “sugar” work, i.e. little spirals using isomalt – again, just because we can (well we nearly can, if only we can garner extra patience!!)
FINALLY it was time to get the beef short ribs out of their bubble bath.  To our surprise (yes, that’s me using a touch of irony there) – Boss Chef Darrin turned up “out of the blue” to assist Chef Rob in putting this one together. [We didn’t see what happened after we left with our own dishes – but I imagine it involved 2 or more chefs tucking a tea towel into their jacket collars, and sucking dry beef short ribs in a manner reminiscent of Charley’s cat [go to minute 51 if you’re not as old as me ].
Evidently there was smoking of the ribs to be done at the last minute – and I was suddenly on temporary wingman duty, which I blame entirely on my brother for buying me a smoking gun for Christmas.  Fortunately (planned) smoke happened, and an exceedingly cool little cloche was filled with hickory smoke, to finish off the beef, olive oil mash and little vegetables.
3-day slow cooked smoked beef short rib, charred leek glaze, olive oil mash and madeira jus.
To finish off the day – a dessert that I knew would be my favourite when I read about it some months ago – and I was right!  Yes, ok, so I could probably do without the large handful of Szechuan peppercorns I added to the bottom of the tatin, but since they’re one of my favourite things, a little tingle on the sides of the tongue was both anticipated and welcome.
Pineapple tarte tatin with Szechuan pepper ice cream, caramel sauce, pineapple fluid gel and pineapple tuiles.
Tarte tatin! With pineapple instead of apple! And Szechuan pepper ice cream!  What sort of a mad brilliant combo is that?? My ice cream maker will totally be in action Sunday … and thank Crunchie for the little Vietnamese supermarkets in Hackney that supply my Szechuan pepper addiction!!
After all that, it was essential for the More Advanced Team to ensure a serious debrief and/or teambuilding session … so we found ourselves in Number 14, where we were forced to consume a small (!) quantity of beer, gin, wine and more beer. And a coffee (to make room for the beer).
I expect Chef Rob will surprise us all tomorrow by organizing us each a little deckchair in front of the telly, so we can watch him make some cool stuff while sitting on the terrace getting a tan.

Push on!!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Day 3 in the Ashburton Fusion Kitchen!

Cooking extreme – still extreme!
So, Woeful Wednesday came around, and there was much excitement tinged with a (strong) hint of fear.  Oh good lord, chef – you seriously think we’re going to cook pig skin and ears, make both a parfait and a sorbet, turn raw celeriac into a fabulous ravioli casing, make a pea jelly, pané and deep fry ravioli, slow cook hens’ eggs, infuse acres of Szechuan peppers in milk ready for tomorrow, sous vide our pork for the afternoon – AND make potato AND apple “parisienne.” Oh, and did you just say this is all before lunch??!  Seriously, you are having a laugh mate! I mean Chef.

Oh ok, so maybe it turned out this was not so impossible. In the words of Wingman Darren, we were ON IT. In fact we were so totally brilliant that the afternoon required an impromptu, but very welcome coffee break, just to take the speed off.  Oh, by the way, did I mention we may have been to the pub for “just the one” tonight??  
Anyway – here is just some of what I learnt during the morning (ref. sentence above for why I don’t remember more of what I learnt just at this precise minute!):
  • Pigs’ ears are really really ugly, and a bit veiny too – but in a good way, if there is one
  • If you don’t take the wax out of pigs’ ears with a cotton bud before you boil them, they will explode
  • Sorbet will hold for longer if you put a bit of gelatine in it
  • Deep frying celeriac at a low temperature makes it pliable enough to turn into ravioli
  • You can make a horribly yellow glue with an egg yolk and cornflour
  • Gelatine will keep on setting things a bit firmer according to time/temperature, whereas agar agar is a “one off” – done, nothing further will happen once initially set
  • Pigs’ ears are a bit hairy, and will burst into giant flames if you don’t pluck them
  • “Parisienning” potatoes and apples is a tricky task, best left to one’s co-chef if you don’t want a flat bottom, and who would?
After all this learning, we had lunch, and it was pretty damn good!

Celeriac and apple parcels, slow cooked hen's egg, pea and mint jelly, micro herbs
Lunch interval! Yes, I said interval!
Because we had been so well behaved, we were allowed almost 30 mins for lunch, so we all took the opportunity to play on twitter -  but since we’d all been totally botally focused (yes, focused) in the morning, none of us had tweeted each other, so it was all a bit disappointing.
Further to lunch, it turned out there was even more to do.

First Chef Rob had to burn some leeks – and then he made some windows so that we could work out how to do the same. After which we made our own windows, but with an extra touch of basil, and they were called opaline tuiles. These were “biscuits” that looked just like plate glass windows – but with teeny cool bubbles in – and also tinged very slightly green and tasting of basil (evidently to compliment the strawberry dessert!) You could almost see the lightbulb over Chef Rob’s head as the basil idea hit him. From which I learnt that a chef’s creativity is never done!!!
It's all about the pig!
The afternoon was largely about pigs --- so we made popcorn crackling (from dehydrated pork skin), and then there was “real” crackling made by boiling pork skin, drying it in an low oven for hours and hours, then shocking it in a very hot oven, crispy pigs’ ears, and some lovely smokey Saucisson de Morteau (oui, un saucission francais, bien sur)!   Our nice hunks of pork loin went in the bubble bath for 3 hours – Chef Rob had the runt of the litter, and no, he did not let us forget this.
AND best of all – I learnt how to clean my smoking gun properly, without totally mashing up the essential little wire nets, and all with just the use of one paper clip! Not to mention learning exactly how to fashion the pen lid I may now have stolen, so I can introduce a useful little funnel to the end of the pipe supplied with aforementioned gun.
I think that was a bit of an added extra – what actually happened was that we made an amazing smoked caramelized apple purée, which I think any of us would happily have bathed in.
It’s the small things that count – and today I learnt how to finely shred cabbage. Simples! But only if you know how, and until today, I did not!! This is akin to yesterday, when I suddenly learnt how to chop chicken bones without losing a finger.  Which, to be honest, is really quite handy!
Anyway, amongst all this – we prepared strawberries with lime sugar, basil and a “small” drop of strawberry liqueur, blended our glass windows (aka tuiles) into a powder and then turned them into amazing shards, and made the most amazing pork jus with layers of flavours, and a touch of Armagnac right at the end. I believe royally in Armagnac personally!
Despite having a coffee break, and not feeling woeful in the least – Wednesday came to an end with a lovely pork dish, and my favourite dessert so far! 
Slow cooked pork loin, popcorn crackling, smoked apple purée, parisienne apples and potatoes, choucroute(ish) with saucission de morteau, calvados pork jus, and CRISPY PIGS EAR.
If under oath, I may admit it was me who ate all the extra strawberries soaked in liqueur with lime sugar. But only if under oath.

Vanilla parfait, strawberries and lime with opaline basil tuile and strawberry sorbet
"Just-in-time!" award of the day: Chef Rob for totally not forgetting the pigs' ears at all, ever.

Push on!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Day 2 in the Ashburton Fusion Kitchen

Cooking extreme – more extreme!
So today was very dull, I hardly learnt anything new at all L HAHAHA, not really!!! There was compression, sous-vide, agar agar pearls, isomalt spheres, gellan gum F fluid gels, and the sheer magic of turning chocolate into powder!!  And as if that wasn’t enough, Chef Rob threw in a small embroidery lesson too!

It all sounded innocent enough – just a salady lunch, a bit of chicken, then a chocolate mousse. Ha, and then we got started! Chamber vacuum machine quickly into play – large chunks of watermelon were decompressed to stop them getting the bends.  Oh, or maybe they were compressed?? Either way – it went into the machine with a vinegar and sugar “gastrique” (I am learning the lingo, stay with me) – and came out looking like sushi grade tuna!
Next up – oh, just a few balsamic caviar-stylee “pearls” – and 1st mention of the day for a small firm somewhere in the North, selling everything you need to create mad food! Balsamic and agar agar whisked to the boil – then little droplets trickled into very cold oil – to form little “pearls”. Oh alright, so I admit to some “damn great pebbles” in among my pearls – I’d like to blame the equipment, but really I just couldn’t wait to have a bash, and impatience is not a virtue.
Turning our hands back to “normal” skills, there was the small and slightly intricate matter of butchering a poussin then de-boning his legs. Yes, I said a poussin. I believe they’d tried to find a smaller, trickier bird, but sparrows are not in season. Oh, and de-boning of legs had to be done with NO tears to the skin, as this was needed for us to practice what we had learnt during Chef Rob’s somewhat surprising embroidery demo. Having de-boned then stuffed teeeeny bird legs, in order to sew them back up, I thought I'd go with a fancy cross-stitch/French knot combo. Then I picked up the needle and thread, and instead turned the poor little bugger into something Heath Ledger’s Joker would’ve been proud of.
Next there was chocolate and custard and a pistachio tuile mix to make, with fancy powdered colouring to enhance the natural pistachio effect. Now I like green myself, but apparently a couple of unplanned green stripes on a follow-up pastry case can NEARLY turn a chef "a bit Ramsay". Nuff said.
Is it time for lunch yet, chef?
Almost lunch, but FINALLY the bit I really came for - making little “glass” baubles full of olive oil, aka doing MAGIC!  Sharp knives and poussin had not really upped the danger levels sufficiently, so we boiled some Isomalt and water – and had a bit of a competition as to who could get closest to fire. I maintain the lone male won at this one! Then we all had a bash at burning our fingerprints off, to achieve correct surface tension and in the manner of blowing bubbles, trickle olive oil through an isolmalt film into very cold oil. Hmm, perhaps an indescribable process. BUT A FUN ONE!

Then we were allowed to have lunch!
Compressed pickled watermelon, goats cheese mousse, balsamic pearls, olive oil sphere, glass tuile with cracked pepper, pinenuts and pistachios, balsamic jelly.
Lazy afternoon
Not much to do in the afternoon really. Just seal and vac-pac beef ribs and put them in the bubble bath to cook for 3 days so we’ve got something for tea on Friday, make a nice little puff pastry treasure chest, do a fancy layered Sauternes sauce, whip up a leek mousse, prep a bunch of wild mushrooms, shape and cook tuiles … oh, and throw together a little raspberry FLUID GEL (nothing artificial to see here, move along Gellan Gum F, you’re blocking the view).

After we’d knocked these few things on the head, it was teatime!

Roast poussin, galantine of poussin, sweetcorn, truffle and ham, treasure chest with leek mousse, wild mushrooms, spring veg - and a Sauternes sauce.
But before we plated up our luvverly dessert, Chef Rob thought it seemed rude not to add an extra finishing touch – so he turned some white chocolate into powder, proving he is Chief of the Magicians!

Dark chocolate cremeaux, pistachio tuile, raspberry fluid gel, gel-filled raspberries, white chocolate-raspberry powder.
“Eeeek!” award of the day: spider crawling out of my mushrooms (pre-cooking, honest!)
“Wow chef, where on earth can you buy that?” award of the day: joint winners – lone male Darren and a certain firm up north.

Push on!!


Ashburton Cookery School - MORE Advanced Course

Cooking Extreme!
So the day I’ve been waiting for – for what seems like about 4 years – finally arrived!  Chef Rob Spencer FINALLY got round to running his new MORE Advanced Course at Ashburton Cookery School – and my plaintive tweets must have had the desired effect, since I got an invite to the inaugural session, hurrah!!
July 6th saw me head off on my favourite First Great Western route to Devon – and as usual, being a classy punter, I sat in First Class eating my egg & cress sandwich with added “flame grilled steak” crisps, all washed down with a can of M&S “Cosmopolitan” (no ice, but I did get a paper cup instead of swigging from the can, for I am posh). 
I waited till the cows changed colour from black & white to red, and then disembarked. This time I even remembered to get my suitcase off the train – I am ON it, I thought, this bodes well!
Day 1 in the Fusion Kitchen
As the merry band of six headed towards our kitchen home for the week, a worrying number of “folks-in-the-know” seemed to be wearing an expression that mixed pity, horror and I like to think a hint of envy. However, as Chef Rob introduced the course, he moved quickly to cheery expectations of a “Woeful Wednesday” – and I started to get their drift.
In a matter of minutes I was handed a large bowl of eggs and sugar and an even larger whisk.  Apparently I had just volunteered to whip this madly until it all thickened! Perhaps I raised an eyebrow, this has been known?  Anyway, as luck would have it, we didn’t have quite enough eggs to use the machine instead, but since I brought both arms this week, we were in business.

Once the bitter toffee and calvados ice cream made its way to the machine, we turned our attention to lunch, and here is what I learnt:
  • American roeless scallops come in a handy ice cream tub, and are very lovely things
  • To make scallop mousse: 1) purée scallops madly in blender 2) pulse in a little cream carefully 3) add the rest while stirring by hand with a spoon (because only a MUPPET can overwork the scallops this way). No pressure.
  • Tiny cubes of blanched ginger root taste greeeaat, and can be kept in sugar syrup indefinitely
  • Raw alcohol can be used at the end of cooking (not cooked off) to counteract richness/add specific flavor
  • Biro lids are a great device to connect smoking gun pipe to cloche valve (this one stored for another day)
  • Picking crab is still a bugger!
Food at last!  Here's lunch:

Steamed crab and scallop parcel, crab bisque sauce, baby vegetables
“There’s always one!" award of the day: “Mmmm, this’d be great with a big hunk of crusty bread”

Ere we go, ere we go!
Afternoon got off to a great start with the making of a nearly deconstructed (but put back together again) ratatouille – a spot of lamb butchery – some hollowing out of patty pans – the toasting of garlic croutons – and making of a lamb reduction.  Somewhere among all this Chef Rob’s wingman got himself fired – but fortunately redeemed himself within the hour, so lives to fight another day! Being the lone man on a course must be soooo hard, poor Darren!
Evidently all this was totally insufficient for one afternoon – so next we made a “tarte fine” with puff pastry and apples. I was somewhat perturbed by my Leaning Tower of Pisa-like outcome, but geometry has never been my strong point – so overlapping semi-circles within a circle is a tough ask.
There had been practically NO danger at all up to now – so to remedy this, we all heated pans of sugar to thousands of degrees (well ok, 160C?), and then threw in cream to ensure volcano effect. More mad whisking was required at this stage, and then we put some butter in to make sure it was healthy.
After all this, it was finally time for tea!

Roast saddle of lamb, basil mash, patty pans filled with ratatouille, garlic croutons with tapenade
Dish of the day: saddle of lamb – best lamb ever, someone tell the butcher!

Apple tarte fine, with calvados caramel sauce and bitter toffee calvados ice cream - oh yes.

Slightly inappropriate remark of the day: something related to orgasmic effects of the apple tart. I'm still waiting.
Best random nugget of the day: there is a thing (let’s not call it a chemical) that turns “things” into powder, but when eaten, has the original mouth feel. I intend to get a bucket of the stuff!!
Push on!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A week in sous-vide: regular baths!

Well then, it's been a bit of a sous-vide-tastic week all in all. In just a week and a day I've somehow managed to try out salmon fillet, skirt steak, 72-hour belly pork, rack of lamb, vegetables, duck egg -- and finally, duck breast.  Good thing I'm on a diet or who knows what else I could've done with it!

A week ago today, I'd just dropped a big chunk of belly pork into the bath, ready for Wednesday.

By Tuesday I was a bit scared -- how could 3 days of sitting in a plastic bag in warm water be good for a chunk of pig? And what if after 3 days it turned out to have been at the wrong temperature the whole time? I'd started off following a recipe for pork ribs on John Loydall's Food Blog -- so I set the bath at 61.5C. With the slow realization that my hunk of pork was quite different to ribs, I got a bit anxious - so I turned it up to 63C on Monday. Still couldn't resist looking up different instructions and recipes, so by Tuesday decided I'd better listen to the Modernist Cuisine bible and hiked it up again to 65C.  Anyway, suffice to say that by Wednesday afternoon, I was pretty convinced the reserve pork chops would be called into action for dinner!

But as luck (definitely not judgment) would have it, after 3 days at various temperatures and a swift very hot barbecuey glaze in the oven - it turned out luvverly! Unbelievably soft but not mush, with the fat completely rendered leaving flavour but no grease. Taking a leaf out of a recent visit to Momofuku in NYC, thought I'd serve it on steamed chinese buns - and just to be sure of completely obscuring all traces of nationality, we doused the lot with chimichurri sauce!

Anyway, now I was on a roll - the machine was finally a hit! So when my sister arrived for dinner on Friday, I thought I'd better demonstrate its powers (despite her insistence that it's a harbourer of salmonella, botulism and all other killer bugs known to man!)

Not quite confident enough to make up my own recipes just yet, thought I'd try another looker from John Loydall's blog - rack of lamb with spring veg. New technique required here - the cooking of 2 different bags of food, at different temperatures -- woooo hoo!  Anyway, all went to plan - my photo's not a patch on the original, but the lamb was another sous-vide hit. Nice and pink, tasty, fat mostly rendered in the bath, and then finished by searing on the hob. And the veg were colourful, and cooked nicely al dente as they say. Shame I forgot to reduce the red wine jus properly!

Looking for something for lunch today after a brisk walk to Blackheath farmers' market and back, I happened upon a duck egg!  Now that I've finally worked out if you fill the bath with hot water, it doesn't take half as long to reach temperature, things've got a lot quicker.  So setting the machine at 64.5C, I dropped in the egg and headed down to the gym for 30 minutes of mad pedalling -- after which right on the beep of 45 minutes, my toast popped out, all ready for its slow poached egg. The perfect post-gym lunch was had!

And finally -- having picked up a nice Fens duck breast at the market, I thought it best to have a bash at bathing that as well -- if only so I could say that in 1 week I'd tried fish, beef, lamb, pork, poultry, eggs AND veg in a bag!  This time it was all my own doing -- vac-packed in a bag with salt, pepper and a few sprigs of thyme and bathed at 57.5C for about 2 hours (well, as long as it took to clean my kitchen and make dumplings!) Once done, seared in a dry pan until the skin was lovely and crispy and served with Nathan Outlaw's fabulous wild garlic dumplings and a port and red wine "reduction" ...

So, all in all a good week of food, if I say so myself.  And now I've found another use for the bath -- couldn't resist buying beef ribs from The Ginger Pig, but no space in freezer -- so tomorrow they'll start their little bath, and continue sitting in it until I get back from Dusseldorf, ready for tea Thursday! However did I live without it for so long???