Continuing the Dessert Development, Vanilla Black and Oklava (2 Awesome Restaurants)

The continuing saga of dessert development goes on! The 1st bash had gone ok, but there is much work to do to get things to the point I would be happy, and make a completed version of Pistachio Dacquoise, Roasted Pineapple Jelly, Kerisik Mousse and Chocolate Glaze, for friends to try.

From the last session, I had been considering how to notch things up a bit so looking through the various components, Dacquoise, Mousse etc. I decided to focus on the Pineapple and see if I could improve things, so how do you make Pineapple special?The 1st version used Pineapple that had been roasted with some sugar in the oven, it was ok but quite sharp. I could add more sugar, like Muscovado to add more depth but decided I would try something new and make a ‘Spiced Caramel‘ to roast the Pineapple in, never done that before. Adding 2 parts Sugar to 1 part water and slowly bringing to the boil you can start to smell the Caramel aroma fill the kitchen. Looking through various books and posts there are loads of methods published explaining not to stir the mixture as its creates crystals and wiping the sides if the pot with a wet brush to ensure all the sugar is dissolved.The spicing would come from a range of aromats, added once the Caramel is made and cooled a bit to prevent burning the spices, the sugar mixture is EXTREMELY HOT. The Sugar/Water mixture started to boil rapidly and change colour from White, to Tan to Brown, job done. I source my herbs and spices from Steenbergs, my favourite supplier and they were to feature heavily in the added flavours. Organic Lemon and Orange Oil, Cinnamon, Cardamon, Star Anise, Sanscho Pepper (from Japan) and grated Tonka Bean. I did not use the Ginger as shown in the picture above in the end, I might try some fresh Ginger next time round.I let the Caramel cool for quite a while and then added the spices as you can see above, I used about 1/2 a grated Tonka Bean, the flavour is similar to Vanilla but subtly different, buy some to see what I mean. The Japanese Pepper adds a delicious bite to the Pineapple and an extra edge!I used two fresh Pineapples, removed the core and skin and cut into rough chunks as above. The oven was set to 180 deg, I poured the caramel over the apples and mixed well, removing the spices with a sieve beforehand and set the timer to 2 hours. I checked the Apples every 30 minutes and gave then a good mix up to make sure the Caramel was coating them well.It was noticeable that the moisture from the Pineapple had ‘diluted’ the Caramel so unlike last time, the cooking was extended to about 2 hours and 20 minutes, you can see the results above. I think in hindsight I could have taken the Caramel to a much deeper colour in the first stage to make it even richer but thats the point of experimentation in the kitchen.I didn’t go through the jelly stage this time round, we had the Pineapple warmed through with some clotted cream and it was really very tasty. Learnings for next time are:

  1. Take the Caramel much further to a deeper colour
  2. Let the spices steep for even longer to allow the flavours to infuse even more

Next time I will be focussing on getting the Pistachio Dacquoise into better shape, and then looking at the Kerisik Mousse but all this will be when I am back from Malaysia, a trip I am extremely excited about.

In the last few weeks I have had to spend some overnight time in London, and been lucky enough to try out a couple of new restaurants, Vanilla Black and Oklava, both at different ends of the foodie spectrum so here was my experience at both.

A Night at Vanilla Black!

Lets start by saying I am NOT a vegetarian, but Vanilla Black IS a Vegetarian and Vegan establishment situated in Tooks Court near Chancery Lane in London.

So why the hell did I, a meat eating carnivore who loves the finer side of Ox Cheek, Jacobs Ladder, Liver, Heart and who knows what else decide to pay very good money to try this ‘vegetarian’ place out? Because the food looked AMAZING, and other reviews had suggested this was not your run-of-the-mill place to eat Nut Roast, Stuffed Peppers, Vegetarian Lasagne and all the other variations of meat dishes, with the traditional protein replaced by ingredients like Quinoa, Cous Cous, Haloumi or other products that could be used in more imaginative ways, just like Yotam Ottolenghi is pretty damn good at!

So I sat at my table, a little earlier than planned as my 30 minute walk turned out to be only 15 minutes and perused the menu. I had already chosen to be honest, I was going for the Vegetarian Tasting menu with matching wine flight, might as well do things properly. The restaurant was already pretty full and buzzing, most of the eateries I has passed on the way were either empty or only had a very small clientele, a good sign I thought.I was presented with a glass of bubbles shortly after arrival which was a nice surprise, and some home made bread and butter to nibble on to get things going. The 1st of 2 amuse bouche was a delightful mouth cleanser as my waitress explained, a Carbonated Apple drink with small pieces of Celery and a dusting of Parsley powder it certainly did the trick, refreshing with some lovely texture it set me up for what was to come.Hmm, here we go, course number 1: Cucumber, Sticky Rice and Ginger Purée, Pickled Cucumber Ketchup and Seaweed, what the hell was going on in my mouth, it was just stunning. When you read the ingredients and think, sounds a bit, you know…The Sticky Rice was surrounded in a crumb so you got oodles of texture, all the other flavours just danced around, it was very good indeed, the ginger doing a really good job of reminding you it was ever present.  The wine that accompanied this dish the waitress explained was a Hattingly Sparkling Wine which really worked very well with the various flavours.So onto dish no.2: Baby Fennel, Creamed Lemon and Toast, Fennel Purée and Ice, Basil and Lime, served with a Tempranillo Blanc. I was writing notes in between each course on my iPhone, to remind me what I was tasting. I particularly remember this dish as the contrasts between the temperatures were a real hit, quite magical on the palate.Things were getting interesting, if not already exceeding all my expectations. The service from the young Hungarian waitress was impeccable, taking time to explain each course, and why the particular wine matched. I asked for a list of the wines as I had not taken detailed notes and she arrived back with a piece of paper with them all written down for me, she was very passionate about the food being served.

Annoyingly, I was so wrapped up in the ‘vegetarian’ experience I forgot to capture the 2nd Amuse Bouche which was based on Buratta, I’ve had the pleasure of a private trip to an artisan cheese producer in Puglia and tasted it fresh along with Mozzarella and Ricotta, still warm from the production process it’s fabulous.

So dish no.3? Tomato Shortbread, Sheep’s Milk and Brocoli, Gem Lettuce and Egg Yolk, served with a Sancerre. This was frustratingly good, warm Shortbread, sorry no, Tomato Shortbread it was warm and delish with the Sheeps Milk Centre (Cheese of course), again with different texture and flavours bouncing all over the place.It was all going very well, nothing to get the slightest bit ‘oh, not sure about that’, and before too long it was course no.4: Baked High Cross and Charred Spring Onions, Roasted Onion Purée served with a Rioja Promesa, very nice too. The only ‘minor’ challenge with this dish was the Spring Onions which were slightly stringy, but otherwise another amazing piece of food engineering.Unfortunately it was time for dessert, and I am Type 1 diabetic, but on occasions and this was to be one of the them (two actually, more in a moment) I thew caution to the wind as the Cep Mushroom Fudge, Roasted Cocoa and Honey Ice Cream, Salted Lavender Honeycomb and Brioche landed in front of me, complete with a Tokaji Dessert wine. Bugger, it was so so so delicious, I could argue at least one of my five a day was on the plate. Cep Mushroom Fudge WTF!! Just Brilliant, the sweet wine a perfect match that was me done for the evening, or that’s what I thought!Next thing I knew I was presented with another dessert, this one from the Vegan menu! Coconut Sorbet, Toasted Rice Mousse and Coffee Coconut Crumble and Coffee Sponge, thank-you Chef a really nice touch it was another stunner, but for me the Cep Mushroom Fudge is definitely the winner on this occasion.

So, I guess you can tell I am now a Vegetarian! No, not quite but the evening at Vanilla Black was beyond outstanding, why, because it was Vegetarian and everything I was served was amazing (spring onions excused), I went in with an open mind and came out astounded at how they could produce some of the best plates of food I have ever eaten, so thank-you Andrew, and your brilliant team.

If you fancy trying something a little different and prepared to have your mind messed with, I whole heartedly recommend the tasting menu for a whole new experience, it was awesome.

Now on to Oklava!

Selim Kiazim was on Saturday Kitchen this morning on BBC1, she is a fantastic Chef and I was lucky enough to get a place at her restaurant Oklava a few weeks back, with a book recently published of the same name it sits proudly on my shelf nestled amongst Yotam Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghayour and Bethany Kehdy, to name a few middle eastern favourites.

Turkish Cypriot food is on the menu, with the option of a table or sitting at the ‘pass’ watching the food being prepared it’s a very warm and open environment.

This was my second night in London, and after Vanilla Black, was looking for something different, and Oklava hit the mark. I managed to get a booking the day before and also managed to arrive 45 mins early this time, the underground was running very well and walking distances on my side had been completely over estimated. The place was buzzing just like the previous evening which again bode well for a great night to come.

This evenings menu included meat and fish too but strangely, I did opt for a Vegetarian option for one of the courses, more of that in a moment.

I was given the option of sitting at the end of the bar and had a fantastic view of all that was going on, which was really great. Seeing Selim and her all female team in action was really interesting as the orders were placed, and the food prepared in front of me, the open fronted oven in the background used for roasting various menu items.

There is a nice menu selection which should cover most tastes, mine was to start with the Spiced Chicken Parfait, Cracker and Pickled Apricots which I watched being prepared before me.

Really very nice indeed the Parfait was very smooth and packed full of flavour, the spicing tickling the tastebuds enough to say ‘hello, i’m here’! The home made cracker was an interesting addition, replacing the usual heavy bread which can fill you up too much before a main course.I was being looked after by a lovely American lass, who had arrived in the UK about 3 months previously and certainly knew the menu well, making recommendations and suggestions as to what would work. To go with the food i picked a Turkish Wine from Northern Anatolia, Diren Collection 2015 which is made from a grape i had not heard of, Narince which was very tasty.

My next dish was a bit unusual, in that it was that ‘vegetarian’ feeling taking over me again, Chilli Roast Cauliflower, Red Onion, Parsley and Pistachios was ordered and arrived after getting the roasting treatment from the open oven. It’s in Selim’s book, also called Oklava so i am looking forward to having a go in the future myself. I reckon it could stand up as a main course all on it’s own with maybe some salad as a side. It was very rich and packed full of flavour, i am glad i picked a lighter main course.For the main even i went for Lahmacun, something i have wanted to try since seeing Rick Stein munch through one on his series Mediterranean Escapes in 2010! Spicy lamb mince on a home made wood fired flat bread, topped with a zesty salad and lemon juice then rolled and eaten it was very very nice indeed.

No dessert for me that evening as the night before had taken my quota for the month, it was a great evening with lovely food, the service was very good, attentive and unfussy Oklava deserves the positive accolades it receives, highly recommended and one to return too in the future.

Selim kindly signed a menu for me to take home during service to keep with the Oklava book I proudly own.

 

 

……………………………………….Until nest time…………………….L8ers………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Michelin Masterclass with Angela Hartnett MBE (Plus a look at the Michelin starred Woodspeen Restaurant)

I was sitting in Cafe Lucca in Bath and my heart was pumping for a couple of reasons, I had just walked up the hill from the station which is something not attempted before, and I was going to be spending a day learning from a food hero Angela Hartnett MBE, who also happens to have a Michelin Star, no mean feat!

Cafe Lucca was also a new experience, my trip to Bath has previously landed me at the station with just enough time to get a taxi to the cookery school, this time the timetable had changed and I was over an hour early, enough time to grab a bite to eat.It was a really tasty plateful, Pancetta, Boiled Eggs that had been coated in Parmesan and stuck under the grill, Roasted Tomatoes, Toast and Marmalade with a pot of Assam Tea, it was all very tasty.

I’d been looking at twitter that morning and Richard Bertinet, the owner of the School had been posting the odd picture of food that we would be using that day. A massive crate of wild Mushrooms including Trompette and Girolles, it was going to be a great day. I’d booked this course in May as a Birthday present so it was a long time coming.So the menu for the day included Pumpkin Tortelli, Partridge with Turnip and Mushrooms and Plums with Ricotta, seasonal dishes that as we found out, would require a lot of skill and technique to prepare, no ready made Pasta, that was to be done by hand along with preparing the Partridges, they were whole, Heads, Wings and Guts!!Angela is an absolute delight, taking the 12 of us students through the process of making the pasta by hand, understanding the  look and feel once it was ready to roll, cut and shape as required, imparting lots of tips on the way it was great fun. We were grouped into fours and encouraged to interact our group starting chatting away sharing experiences as we went on.I have made Pasta by hand before in Italy, but it was over four years ago (sorry, my food experiences have meant that I am never trying a particular country or region for that long)! It was a really good session, I had never used a Pasta Machine before similar to others in the group so it was interesting to see the difference not having enough Flour in the mix made, it was slightly too wet and produced interesting results when put through the Pasta machine.I’d never heard of Tortelli before, they are like a rectangular Raviolli, where you place the stuffing close to the edge nearest you, flip over, egg or milk wash the front and sides, and in between the covered filling and flip over the other side like a blanket, mine were by no means perfect but the looked ok once finished.Before preparing the Pasta, we had quartered a Pumpkin, seasoned and placed on oiled baking trays for a session in the oven to soften.  Angela encouraged us to answer questions and shared many of the experiences working with the likes of Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing which was really interesting and very amusing indeed !!I LOVE Partridge, in fact our 11 year old son loves Partridge too, and cooks it himself when available (with parental assistance of course). We were each given one to prep after being shown how to do it by Angela, removing the legs in the right place, (you can go further down the joint towards the body which makes for an unstable cooking experience as it wobbles in the pan)!

Then the Wings, the Head was removed close to the Head, rather than close to the body and the Neck was to be used in the game sauce we were to make. The next bit was interesting, food digestion is a slow process and the cavity between the Neck and the Body contained all sorts of Seeds, bits of food that the Partridge was still ‘processing’. Next the Guts, Heart, Lungs etc. We kept the Heart and Kidney to add to the Game sauce towards the end to add extra richness and flavour.We were prepping and cooking for several hours, it was hard work but really good fun. One of the students had come all the way from Norway to attend the 1 day course, she owned a Bakery and had been to the school before to learn advanced bread making techniques which the owner Richard Bertinet is a master at, this is an awesome cookery school and Richard attracts some seriously good chefs to come along and share their knowledge and experience.We worked tirelessly from about 10:00 till 12:30, then a break for refreshments, and a quick snack of Cheese and Ham Toasties with Bechamel using Richards famous Bread, they were very tasty indeed. The ‘Baker Girls’ or Bertinet Backstage are the great team that assist, wash up, clean and generally help things go smoothly and as usual, they did an exceptional job.Earlier, we had removed the legs from the Partridge ready for a bath in Duck Fat, Garlic and Thyme, we were going to confit the legs and add to a Salad with Pickled Walnuts. Before the ‘Duck Fat Bath’, the legs were fried in Olive Oil to colour, there was lots going on during the course, loads of different cooking techniques were learnt on the way it was excellent value for money and everyone was sweating in the heat of the kitchen.The Partridge Crowns got the Pan treatment, in LOADS of Butter and Thyme, a few minutes before hitting the oven for finishing off.Angela was more than happy for us to video, take pictures, selfies and was a real joy to spend time with, her knowledge and experience is just something  you don’t often get the chance to access, I need to practise my photography from a selfie perspective although we were right by the hob, and everything was hot in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, due to train timetable changes I had to leave earlier than expected and only managed to sit down for the Pumpkin Tortelli starter which was really tasty, I was given some Partridge Breast, some of the Mushrooms, and the Turnip dish we prepared and had them in the evening for tea, very tasty indeed. I really can’t wait to book my next session at Richards Cookery School, its ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

This is the eighth course I have completed at Richard Bertinet’s Cookery School, each of them have had their own qualities, this was equally as enjoyable as the previous seven, but made more special but being taught by such an iconic chef, full of energy, passion and Angela is just a lovely person, thank-you Angela. If you get the chance, just book and your will be guaranteed an amazing time.

A Birthday Treat At the WoodSpeen Nr Newbury

Where to go to celebrate my Birthday? It took less than 10 seconds to reach a decision and a booking at the local Michelin starred restaurant, ‘The WoodSpeen’ was completed online. I’ve eaten here before with a good friend, but only for lunch and we had their lunchtime special which was very good, this time it was to be the ‘Full Monty’ a la carte.Sat at our table an Amuse Bouche arrived, Courgette Soup with Black Olive. I am not sure about Courgettes, I eat them a lot but they tend to be part of a dish and not going solo, the soup was really very tasty, quite a surprise but a good one. We had been given some lovely home made bread and polished off the dish before more bread arrived, very good attentive service.For starters I opted for the Roasted Scallops, with Chicken Thigh, Cauliflower and Hazelnut, OMG it was so very tasty. The Scallop was perfectly cooked, the Chicken tender as it could be and really rich the whole dish just sung ‘eat me’.My partner in crime opted for the Woodspeen Smoked Salmon, Beetroot, Goats Curd and Apple which was apparently delicious and was demolished quite effortlessly, with a big smile of satisfaction to finish.We were then surprised with another Amuse Bouche, Buratta with Heritage Tomatoes and Olive Crumb, another exceptional taste bomb that really cleansed the taste buds, this was going really very well indeed.I adore fish and the Bass did not disappoint, with Clams, Squid Ink Gnocchi, Fennel and Champagne Sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly and the Champagne Sauce is THE best I have ever had, seriously tasty and moorish, I could have drunk it out of a cup it was that tasty.Steak was the choice for Mrs R, with Garlic Mushrooms, Onion Ring, Triple Cooked Chips and Bearnaise. We usually find steaks are ‘OK’, either the meat is not the best or the cooking is not quite right, this was spot on perfect, and the chips, oh my we thought we had found the best chips locally and they are very good, but these WERE the best, praise indeed.It was my birthday so I WAS having a dessert, the Pina Colada sounded really nice. Coconut Parfait, Macadamia Crumble, Pineapple and Lemongrass Sorbet. I was in heaven, it was yum yum yum the tastes and textures dancing around on the tongue it was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

The Woodspeen is highly recommended, the food is excellent, the service is excellent un-fussy but very attentive, we will be definitely going back very soon.  I think it’s great value for money considering the quality of the service, ingredients and cooking.

Thanks you to the team at The WoodSpeen for making my birthday very special.

 

……………………………Until next time……………..L8ers………………….

 

 

Developing a New(ish) Dessert – Pistachio Dacquoise, Rum Roasted Pineapple Jelly & Kerisik Mousse Pt1 Inspired By Jackie Kearney, The Hungry Gecko.

My mojo has been depleted for a few months, close deaths on both sides of the family, our 11 year old who has been unwell for several years has finally been diagnosed with suspected PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections),  and work has been very busy, which is not a bad thing so my last post was back in June!

I have a treat booked in October, a day with Angel Hartnett at Richard Bertinet’s cookery school so I have decided to try and invent something to try and kick start my mojo again, at least construct from different components so this is the first ‘development’ blog, capturing the good and bad of my foodie experiment.I had a number of thoughts about savoury and sweet and as most of my posts have been on the savoury side, I have opted for a dessert, something hopefully a little bit different, using some of the flavours that I love so much such as pistachio, pineapple, coconut etc. but it needs to be edgy, not out of the box.Not so long ago I was in the safe hands of Jackie Kearney on a Vegan cookery course, we used an ingredient in the Green JackFruit Rendang which was called Kerisik. Kerisik is toasted Coconut and a component of Malaysia cooking, I am hoping to visit Malaysia later this year, I remember the description of taking a block of Creamed Coconut, putting it in a heatproof dish like a pyrex, and sticking it in the Microwave on high power for a couple or 3 minutes, stirring, then back in until a deep brown colour.The aroma of Kerisik is amazing, toasty Coconut both rich and slightly sweet. This could be a perfect component for the dessert so a quick tweet to Jackie asking if she had used it in such a way, yes in a ‘Panna Cotta‘ so I decided I would have a go at using it in a Mousse. BEWARE – It very VERY VERY hot so make sure you use a Pyrex or similar.

The Idea and recipe/ingredients further up the page took a couple of weeks to get too. What would the base be, Sponge, Biscuit, Joconde, Dacquoise, Meringue, Genoise the choices are endless. The base also needed to have flavour, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Pecans, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Pineapple?

I opted for Pistachio as I had a large bag in the cupboard and Coconut and Pistachios have a lovely flavour and would work with the Coconut, the base that I have initially opted for is the Dacquoise, like a Meringue but softer and more chewy in texture.I invested in a bag of really good quality Pistachios a few months back, I use them a lot (when I am cooking and the mojo is not missing!) and recommend The Sous Chef. They were not cheap at £47.50 for a Kg, but the quality is very good and they are skinless so ideal for patisserie with no waste and faffing to get the skins off. You will need 100 grm which need to be processed to a rough powder before roasting to intensify the flavour and remove moisture which you can see above.I’ve never made a Dacquoise before and unfortunately got disturbed by an excited son just as I was at what I suspect was an important stage. I had not ‘set’ the whisked egg whites enough and the mixture ended up sloppy rather than firm enough for piping so I am going to have to have another go at this stage of the dessert, that’s development for you!The next thing to consider was other flavours and textures, Coconut, Pistachio and……Pineapple. Not any old Pineapple, this was to be roasted in Brown Sugar, Rum, Vanilla and Lime Zest and made into a Jelly using Agar Agar, something else I had not used before, the idea of this exercise being to teach myself new skills on the way.Time to finish, I decided that I had learnt enough, made a few mistakes but was a good way forward to creating something really tasty, I had been in the kitchen over 4 hours so I decided to cook the Dacquoise by sitting a large cooking ring on baking paper, and slowly pouring in the mixture hoping it was thick enough not to leak out everywhere!!

The Pineapple was processed in the ‘Ninja’ and set with the correct amount of Agar Agar in a smaller metal ring lined with cling film, and placed on a plate before popping in the fridge to set.

The picture above is of the base and roasted Pineapple Jelly, which was very tasty indeed, although the base was more soggy than chewy the Pineapple Jelly was really very good.

Next time I will be focussing on the base again and looking at making the Kerisik Mousse.

 

………………………………Until next time…………………….L8ers…………………………

 

I Love India – A Day With The Delightful and Very Talented Anjum Anand, At Bertinets’ Cookery School

Cookery Books can be a fantastic source of inspiration and simultaneously just as frustrating, when the dish you have spent ages preparing turns out really disappointing, and in some cases inedible! I LOVE cookery books, especially where the content takes you on a journey with the author through a period of life, or travels through an unfamiliar land of exotic and tingling flavours.

When a I received a call the other week, “Hey hun, there is a nice looking Indian Cookery Book called ‘I Love India‘, by someone called Anjum Anand, do you want me to get it for you?”, my immediate response was “Yes Please”. I knew of Anjum, I had one of her earlier cookery books, and had seen some of her television series so I felt sure it was going to be good, this was to be her eighth book and as they say, practise makes perfect ;-).

I don’t know why I ended up looking at my regular Cookery School’s web page later that day, Richard Bertinet In Bath but there it was before me, “A Day with Anjum Anand, I Love India”.

Minutes later the course was booked and would be taking place a couple of weeks after my annual cookery trip to France, talk about overloaded with cooking!!!I’m very familiar with the setup at Richard’s School, this would be my six course, having spent days with the likes of Mark Hix, Dhruv Baker, José Pizzaro and Omar Allibhoy as well as the master Bread Maker himself Richard, you are always guaranteed high quality chefs, a relaxed atmosphere, great support from the team of lovely ladies that organise and clean (esp. newby Charlotte), and teaming up with like minded enthusiasts all ages, and from all walks of life who want to learn new skills. After the usual Tea, Coffee and Toast (Richards Bread is just fab) with home made conserves we were introduced to the menu we were going to prepare, in 2 groups of 4 people. Anjum explained that we were going to be all hands-on, no demonstrations as she would be working with us, explaining the necessary techniques on the way which sounded just perfect, and just ask questions if you are not sure.

The starter was to be ‘Goan’ Prawn & Coconut Cakes with Tangy Coriander Chutney, for main course we would prepare ‘Kutch’ Chicken Biryani with a Spinach and Dill Raita and Four Seed Tomato Spiced Okra, dessert being Chilled Mango, Coconut and Pearl Pudding.

Goa /ˈɡ.ə/ is a state in India within the coastal region known as the Konkan in Western India. It is bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south, with the Arabian Sea forming its Western coast. It is India’s smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Goa has highest GDP per capita among all Indian states………………….

Kutch, is a region in the extreme west of the western Indian state of Gujarat, can be traced back to prehistorical times. There are several sites related to Indus valley civilisation in the region and it is mentioned in Hindu mythology. In historical times, Kutch is mentioned in Greek writings during the time of Alexander The Great.

Biryani is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India, by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from “birinj”, the Persian word for rice. Another theory is that it derives from “biryan” or “beriyan” (to fry or roast).

So take what looks like a simple description of food and start to interpret the description, next minute you are in a time warp back to 5th Century India and ancient dynasties that evolved over time, as did their cuisine, taking influence from food 4000 years ago, food is not boring if you take a little time to get under the skin of its origins! Click on the various links in the text above to explore for yourself.So we started to prepare the Goan Prawns and accompanying Chutney, this is where being with the author of the book really helps, as it’s very difficult to explain texture, smell and flavour in a book, preparing it with the cook in the room and you start to pick up all the important hints and tips to get the best out of the recipe. This was a case in point with the texture required for the Prawn Cakes which needed blending, but not to extinction!!!! The correct balance of ‘glue’ to texture would provide the desired effect and so we took a step by step approach so we could see what was required.There is only one book (that I am aware of), that takes this issue full on and that’s Marcus Wareings’ “How to Cook The Perfect”, which goes a good way towards addressing the challenge of subtle technique, and is highly recommended.

So how big do you need to make these savoury Goan delights, well that would depend on whether making for an hors d’oeuvre, starter or main course, if you cannot get Panko breadcrumbs are white breadcrumbs ok, the questions kept coming, all relevant and important to the person asking them, and useful for the rest of the budding cooks.As we carried on with our preparation more questions followed, the subjective issue of herb quantities for the Chutney, to join the Goan Prawn Cakes we were making a Tangy Coriander Chutney, the ‘Tang’ provided by Lemon, with some texture from Pistachios, with Mint and Garlic to add to the flavoursome accompaniment. The consensus was that at the end of the day, everyones palate is different and adjust to what YOU like but we all agreed testing the Chutney without having some Goan Cake at the same time was the only way to ensure the flavour profile was appropriate. Shock, Horror, OMG, its delicious, we made that!!

There was happiness and surprises as we progressed to the more complicated dishes. Food from this continent is more familiar to me having had the pleasure of spending a day with Dhruv Baker, but also a couple of days with a cook from Pakistan, Sumayya Usmani where I had learned to cook a Biryani amongst other dishes of the region. But there is more than one Biryani!I love Biryani but here in the U.K. we have a little problem, I am yet to have eaten a Biryani in a restaurant or takeaway, nope, definitely not a proper Biryani, not one that even comes close. Today we MADE A BIRYANI, a proper one, from the Kutch region of India, a result.Kutch district (also spelled as Kachchh) is a district of Gujarat state in western India. Covering an area of 45,674 km², it is the largest district of India. The population of Kutch is 2,092,371. And THEY know how to make a proper Biryani.

It’s a complex dish with several stages like making a marinade, frying some dry spices, making crispy onions (not burn’t) from scratch (you can cheat, but won’t have the fragrant oil left over!), preparing the rice etc. It was great fun as we all did our bit to contribute towards the final dish.Anjum is an absolutely lovely lady, patient calm, full of enthusiasm and abound with knowledge about the food and region, her life story is really interesting and forms the start of her book I love India where the recipes for the cookery session came from. She was really happy to answer all the questions we threw at her, at times it must have seemed like a ‘barrage’ during a 17th century attack on a ‘Fortified Castle’, relentless!!

We had prepped the Goan Prawn cakes and were leaving the breadcrumbs to the last minute, the Coriander Chutney was done, Crispy Onions done,  I was on Rice duty and that was good to go too, the morning was rushing by and we needed a break.Those that have been to Richard’s School will know about the late morning break, those of you that don’t, pick a course, book it and find out for yourself as it’s part of the experience, ’nuff said.

After refreshments we carried on finishing the various dishes, the Biryani needed layering, Rice, then the Chicken that we had pre-cooked in the marinade, then more Rice. During the morning each of us had learned so many techniques, like how to tell when Garlic is properly cooked, how to make the perfect Rice, seasoning, these are the things that are so difficult to explain in a book as they involve smell, taste and texture.So what about dessert. Charlotte, one of the lovely ‘BackStage Girls’ as they are know who clean, make tea, prepare as necessary mentioned ‘Frogspawn’ a couple of times!!!

Pearl Pudding was the description in the recipe notes we were given, ah, Tapioca ‘Pearls’, aka Frogspawn for those that remember from their school days. We were given another idea which I am not going to mention, book some time with Anjum to find out more. We prepped Mango cubes, made a Mango and Coconut Cream heavy ‘soup’, with the consistency of Double Cream, boiled the ‘Frogspawn’ and soon everything was done and we were sitting down to a very enjoyable lunch.The Goan Prawn Cakes and Tangy Coriander Chutney were outstanding, really tasty and the Tang of the Chutney went very well indeed. I reckon (only a personal opinion), this could be served with the addition of a Kachumber, a salad of Onion, Tomato and Cucumber (with a Tamarind Dressing), which would be a perfect match and make a lovely lunch or light supper.It was so nice to be eating a proper Biryani again, light, fragrant with textures and pings of flavour from the addition of Currants and Almonds fried in Ghee, and the Fried Onions I had prepared earlier. It was bl@@dy tasty as they would say in Australia!

As I was travelling to the venue in Bath, I was searching YouTube for any Videos of Anjum and came across a hilarious live recording from an Australian breakfast show a few months back, 3 women who seemed to be clueless about Semolina and the difference between YoGhuurt (not a typo, they make it sound like that), and Milk, it was really funny. Anjum was getting it from every direction and still managed to do a great job. We discussed the experience in the morning which was really enlightening, thanks Anjum.

Time for Dessert,  And an apology!We were all so busy commenting on the starter and main, asking Anjum so many questions and having a great foodie conversation I forgot to take a picture of the dessert. We could not get ‘proper’ Mango’s and those we had didn’t have the best flavour, although the result actually tasted Ok.

There was no consensus on the Tapioca pearls, I was a bit contentious and suggested using Maftoul or Moghrabieh  from the Middle East, larger sphericals and used for savoury dishes I reckon they would work really well, so something I am going to try in the future as an experiment.

So another days cooking at Bertinet’s with the lovely Anjum Anand, a brilliant day as usual, learnt loads, cooked lots, ate a bit too it was great fun and I cannot wait until next time. If you see one of Anjum’s course I would highly recommend them. Usual rules apply, I paid full price for this course and all views are my own. I have not been coerced in any way.

 

……………………………….Until Next Time…………..L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cathars of the Languedoc, Original ‘Bubbles’, not Dom Pérignon & Another Michelin Starred Restaurant, Oh, and some Chocolate – but not in that order!

2017-05-24 12.30.38The weather is getting better and better (and hotter), it’s breakfast on Wednesday and we are all still talking about the previous nights amazing dinner and the theatre involved in its delivery.

We have some trips today, a respite from frantic mise en place and intense cooking, spending 3 hours a session ( 2 a day) on your feet in the kitchen has had its impact, all our ankles are swollen with what is probably water retention!!P1030802The story goes that a Monk called Dom Pérignon was visiting the area around Limoux in the Languedoc and stumbled across fellow monks that in 1531, had discovered a method to make sparkling ‘wine’, the Monks were based at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire, he pinched the idea and ‘Champagne’ was born!

Dom Pérignon (1638–1715) was a monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers and obviously very good at marketing, the rest is history!p1030804.jpgWe were going to visit a small local family producer in Limoux that makes the two varieties of wine, Crémant and Blanquette. The tour was ‘interesting’, they had invested in some high-tech visual presentations that seemed to miss something, in fact quite a lot but it was still fun nonetheless.

At the end was the tasting session and we got to try a variety of their produce which is extremely good, and excellent value for money at 10€ to 15€ a bottle. They have a website and can ship to England, the quality was very very good and it was difficult to distinguish between what we were drinking and the more expensive Champagne which is often overpriced and way too acidic.

All-aboard, back into the mini-bus and we were off to the village of Saint Frichoux.moz001-_-IMG_8512Behind the simple (but very thick) walls of La Belle Minervoise built in 1895 hides a stunning Chambres d’Hôtes, or French Bed and Breakfast owned by the lovely Jean-Claude and Sophie who are also professional Patissier’s and Chocolatiers, the reason for our visit to the tiny hamlet of Saint Frichoux, very close to the Canal Du Midi and not far from Carcassonne.2017-05-24 15.46.28I recently learnt how to temper Chocolate the modern way using ‘MyCryo Cocoa Butter Powder‘ with Mark Tilling, the Great British Bake Off Crème de la Crème winner in 2016 which was a real honour but this was equally a humbling experience.

Jean-Claude has been following the manual method of tempering for many years and met his life long partner Sophie who is a Pâtissier, got married and subsequently jointly owned and ran an establishment just outside Paris, before moving South for a less hectic lifestyle.

They welcomed us with open arms and we were treated to a masterclass (with hands-on), to the art of manual chocolate tempering over a slab of marble.  It takes time and patience heating the Chocolate, reducing the temperature on the slab until you can see Crystals form on the surface etc…. it took time but audience participation added to the experience.2017-05-24 16.30.20Once the process has been completed which took quite a while as, despite the thick walls the room was still too warm, you can use the Chocolate to fill moulds and Jean-Claude started with small simple shapes.2017-05-24 17.19.52After dipping some Marzipan to make some traditional treats we were shown how to deal with moulds, which is not as easy as you might think. Done properly you will end up with a glossy sheen and no ‘bloom’, or white markings which is the Cocoa Butter that has not been tempered properly.

We had great fun with Jean-Claude and Sophie they were very hospitable and if you check out their B&B on Tripadvisor you will see nothing but positive comments. P1030827It was unfortunately time to move on so we all clambered into the mini-bus again and headed to the small village of Lastours which is about 7.5 miles away from Carcassonne, our gastronomic destination for the evening being ‘Le Puits du Trésor‘, which means The Well of Treasures.

We made a short detour on the way, only 5 minutes and hidden behind a small touring park you can see the famous ruins of the Châteaux de Lastours, 4 structures that formed a defensive bastion for hundreds of years. I plan to go back to this part of France to learn more about the Cathars and visit some of the historical sites which I find absolutely fascinating. 2017-05-24 18.33.30As we headed down a steep windy road (there are quite a few of those around here!), we turned a sharp corner and before us was a significant building, an ex textile factory nestling against the backdrop of the Montagne Noire, the ‘Black Mountain’ with the River Orbiel running alongside.2017-05-24 18.35.49Jean-Marc Boyer achieved his Michelin Star in 2007 after years of training in some of the best 2* and 3* restaurants in France, and has continued to receive the accolade on an annual basis to this day, as well as the restaurant he also runs a Bistro,  ‘Auberge du Diable au Thym’ at the opposite end of the building which offers lunchtime light eating at very reasonable prices.

Jean-Marc was a very good tutor when he spent two days with us, had a lovely manner, lots of patience (believe me, he needed it with us lot!),  and a really great sense of humour which kept us on our toes. His approach is market fresh produce, simple ingredients cooked and prepared to perfection.

The restaurant menu is VERY dependent on what produce is available, mood of the Chef, and weather,  so you don’t know what you are going to eat until you sit down and the plate is placed before you, exciting stuff!Photo 24-05-2017, 19 31 26The Hors d’oeuvre arrived to whet our appetites and tickle the taste buds, some beautiful Salmon with a macerated Strawberry ‘sauce’ with Basil Chiffonade, it was very tasty indeed and set the scene for the dishes ahead.Photo 24-05-2017, 19 52 43The starter was simply delicious, perfectly prepared and beautifully presented. VERY fresh Asparagus, served in a lovely light, crispy Puff Pastry case (Jean-Marc does not buy Pastry, it was home-made and FULL of buttery richness), the sauce was Mustard and Citrus, Lemon in the Sauce but with some strategically placed Orange confit tricked the palate, damn it was really so good. SIMPLE done Brilliantly!Photo 24-05-2017, 20 21 59The mains arrived next, Stone Bass, a very meaty fish found swimming around wrecks, a bit like a Grouper, which was served with an ‘assiette’ or selection of Vegetables that had been supplied market fresh that morning. Again simple but well cooked food, accompanied by a very complex but tasty sauce, another winning dish. Freshly made Bread helped mop up any leftover sauce, it would be rude not too!photo-24-05-2017-21-12-26.jpgFinally dessert, and there were two of them. Firstly, an imaginative crispy pastry base, with a Strawberry Soufflé filling, never had this before and it was very good indeed, offset by a home-made caramel Ice-cream. A lightly macerated Strawberry ‘Stew’ with more home made ice-cream finished the meal off, a very satisfying finish to a really good day.P1030064C’est Tout, that’s it. Another adventure over, more foodie friends made. Vasily, the Russian from Switzerland who was a Cheese addict and made us all laugh in so many ways, Paul and Sue from the U.S., our political commentators ably joined by Marc, the ex Chef, Journalist and Travel Writer. And the adorable Ali and Sue, keen foodies who had met on a previous cooking vacation, kept in touch and carried on the tradition.

Massive thanks must go to Moira and her able team of helpers, and the star Chefs, Robert and Jean-Marc, who’s attention, patience and teaching helped us all achieve new culinary levels.

………………………Until Next Time………………L8ers………………………..

(P.S. I Paid full price for this vacation and have not been bribed or coerced in any way! The French House Party is named Top Retreat in the National Geographic book by American travel writer Pam Grout: “The 100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life”.

If you are interested in learning more, then please point your browser at http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu You can see the blog of my previous adventures in 2015 which start HERE)

 

It’s Tough, Really Very Tough – A Night of 2 Michelin Starred Gastronomie in Carcassonne!

2017-05-23 17.09.35I’ve been to Carcassonne before, a couple of years ago when I was last a guest at The French House Party. It’s a magical place Carcassonne, having a similar feel to Tallin in Estonia (highly recommended too, had a day trip there on a cruise a few years back). Narrow cobbled streets, Coffee shops to sit outside and watch the world go by, we arrived late in the afternoon when the majority of the crowds had gone home, it gets very busy here!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 50 30How can I describe La Table De Franck Putelat…………Bloody Brilliant!  The whole experience is just so different.

I have had the pleasure of eating here before, a restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars you expect it to be good, but it’s the theatre as well as the food that takes it to the next level. From the Flame in the Glass Cabinet, that warms the Bread Basket placed on top it’s an amazing experience that, given the chance I would recommend to anyone.Photo 23-05-2017, 19 56 17Hmmmm,  a little Appetizer was passed to each of us the waiter then described what was in our hands…………..Duck Foie Gras Lollipops with a Grapefruit Emulsion….. Gulp! How they made the Emulsion stick in such a uniform way was mind-blowing, it tasted pretty damn good too!Photo 23-05-2017, 19 58 41Ah, I am sure I didn’t have these the other day!…… Tapioca Crisps perfumed with Aioli, Tapenade and Mushroom Cream, crispy and very very tasty, my mouth was already salivating after the previous tastes and textures. The others in our group were also amazed at these little tasty delights.photo-23-05-2017-20-02-29.jpg‘What’s this’ we all declared as a bowl of ‘Smoking Something’ was placed before us! Dry Ice used to great effect, the delights were Cromesquis of Pig Feet (errkk)! Crispy Morsels that had a lovely light crunchy coating they are like a Croquette, and a soft melting pork centre with some lemon jelly they were so so good, and this was just another appetiser!Photo 23-05-2017, 20 25 51Bread is the life blood of France, just ask my occasional Tutor and owner of Bertinet’s Cookery School in Bath Richard Bertinet, I am sure he will agree. There was a great choice of Bread, all homemade and displayed on the ‘Fire Cabinet’, with the waiter cutting on demand as we all tried to decide what to pick!photo-23-05-2017-20-27-45.jpgMy Choice was the Spelt Bread which had a great crust, and the Thyme Bread which was like a Croissant but shaped like a traditional Beehive they were both really delicious. There are little ‘nods’ to the surroundings and very obvious was the ‘chain mail’ place mat, and wooden butter knife being linked to the Knights that used to occupy the City.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 28 44The ‘Theatre’ carried on, not a dish with a block of butter, or the usual ‘curls’ they have a paddle like wooden butter dish, with ordinary and one laced with Seaweed to provide the salt component, very tasty on the home-made bread.photo-23-05-2017-20-29-53.jpgThe last delight before the 1st course was ready, came in a beautifully designed porcelain Chicken Foot,  a perfectly cooked Egg, covered in a rich and decadent Mushroom Cream with a bit of Truffle for added decadence! Boy it was so tasty, and we had only completed the appetisers, that set the bar high for the remainder of the meal.Photo 23-05-2017, 20 39 57So onto the starter, let’s see if the food was as good as last time. Duck Foie Gras Rougié, Palourdes Cranquettes de Méditerranée, Pistils de Safran à Gégé. It was a full (and I mean FULL) flavoured broth with seared Foie Gras, beautiful Clams and an assortment of vegetable brunois (chopped really small)!

The comments around the table sort of went like, ‘this is amazing’, ‘this is sooo delicious’, ‘oh my god, how do they get so much flavour into this’, ‘Jeez this is really very good’……. We sort of knew ho they got so much flavour into things as the 1st two days of our cooking course had been just that, spending hours frying, boiling, reducing, adding more flavours, reducing etc… The starter was a hit with everyone. Photo 23-05-2017, 21 04 51The main course soon arrived and was equally as tasty. I don’t think I have EVER had a fillet of Cod so perfectly cooked! It fell apart, melted in the mouth, was so light and flaky, no rough or slighty stringy edges it was PERFECT. The flavour of the vegetables and broth were perfect with subtle flavours and did not overpower the fish, it was just fab, and all of us had come to pretty much the same conclusion (until the next day, more of that later)!photo-23-05-2017-21-49-25.jpgIt maybe a personal thing but the thing most people rememeber about a restaurant is the dessert, it’s the last thing they eat before departing and will have (In good restaurants), a significant visual impact as we knew from our own efforts over the last couple of days. Our dessert had visual impact, lots of it! Pavlova ananas, infusé aux bais sancho, sorbet céleri branche. It was a Pineapple Pavola (deconstructed), infused with Sancho Berries (Japanese pepper) and Celery Sorbet (and some White Chocolate).

This dish divided the group, it was the Celery Sorbet that was the bone of contention. The thing was, if you had a bit of each element the Sorbet worked a treat, cleaning the palate especially with the sweet White Chocolate. The textures were great too, soft, crunchy, smooth melting I personally loved it, a lot. So that was it, multiple courses all great and we had a fantastic time, and experience. But there was a bit more to come yet!!photo-23-05-2017-22-10-51.jpgThe service had been exemplary all night, each dish being described as it was delivered to the table, the final little teaser being little crisp tarts with a fresh Raspberry filling, and some light jelly delights, I cannot remember what they were but I think coconut from memory, we had eaten so many tasty flavours it was still delicious.photo-23-05-2017-22-13-04-e1495818627716.jpgAll of a sudden, our waiter came to the table, picked up the flower pot which the delights were resting and threw it onto the table, more theatre the pot was made of Chocolate smashed into pieces and threw more hand made delights all over the table, we all burst into laughter not having experienced such fun as the Chocolate cracked, and various delights were exposed…….!!

That’s it for now, I landed back in the U.K. last night and only have one more post to write, the final day and another restaurant review, that of 1 Michelin starred Chef (and our tutor for 2 days), Jean-Marc Boyer.

…………………………Until next time………………L8ers……………..

 

 

 

Sweet as ‘Le Puits d’Amour’ (it’s not the dessert in the picture but sounds kinda awesome if you don’t speak french)!

The weather has been kind to us if you like the sun. But, if you are making pastry and desserts it’s a pain the in the butt! Butter, flour and heat do not mix and today we were starting our marathon two days with the amazing Jean-Mark Boyer who has deservedly earned a Michelin star.

The chance to spend time with such experience is priceless in my humble opinion, learning tips and tricks gained through years of serious hard work and professional training that you can’t get easy access too as an amateur, especially for 2 days!

For this entry I have decided to blend the two days to cover the various pastry we made, rather that break it up. The next entry will cover our trip to Carcassonne and the amazing Table du Franck Putelat restaurant.Photo 22-05-2017, 16 47 11Things were going to be very complex as we were given an insight into the desserts we were making. Fraisier, Financiers with Rocket Chlorophyll and Mint Syrup, Fried Cherries with Liquorice Syrup, Crème Brûlée with Praline, Eclair St Honoré (not the James Martin version) and ‘LePuits d’Amour’, Peanut, Banana and Lime Dessert etc etc….! I have just checked my blood sugar level and all is ok, I am only going to sample things!Photo 22-05-2017, 17 42 23The above picture is the start of Le Puits d’Amour of which there are a variety of interpretations. Starting with making a very rich and buttery (900grams/1Kg flour/30grams Salt) Puff Pastry (yes, I did make it), cutting out rings using a couple of glasses, a sweet dough made with all the usual ingredients for a petit sablé with added ground peanuts forms the base, with the rings glued on top with Egg Yolk.

The Puff Pastry was a two day process folding the mixture and leaving it to rest to allow the layers of pastry and butter to settle, I did the second (book fold) at 11:00 P.M., leaving it to the morning would have been too late!

A Praline, Créme Diplomat, Compote of Bananas, Lime Confit, Tonka Bean Caramel glaze are used to fill the delicious treat, all of which had to be made by the intrepid groups of ‘International Chefs in waiting’!!Photo 22-05-2017, 20 12 47.jpgThe finished result was sublime, there was a subtle Banana flavour in the background, the Lime was probably the most prominent but to be honest it was just delicious. There were lost of processes going on each of us doing ‘our bit’, like a brigade in a professional restaurant it was hectic but really good fun.Photo 22-05-2017, 10 29 31The Fraisier also has several stages, make a ‘biscuit’ or dacquoise base piped into a metal ring, line the edge with Strawberries, add some Créme Diplomat, a Fruit Pureé, some more Créme Diplomat, smooth the top, make some Strawberry ‘powder’, a Sorbet etc……photo-22-05-2017-13-48-09.jpgOur Chef/Travel Writer buddie Mark was celebrating his birthday so this was a surprise celebration cake to honour the day,  it was very well received (and VERY tasty). Happy birthday Mark.

The Eclair St Honoré was a serious piece of work which was two days of effort (for a cake), with all of us doing different elements!

As you can see in the 1st photo at the top, Ali is deftly piping the Choux pastry into ‘Eclairs’, these were prepared and cooked in advance.photo-23-05-2017-11-20-37.jpgThe Eclairs are cut, not in half but 2/3rds the remaining lid being the last 1/3rd (but they were not going to be used at lids, more later).

The Puff Pastry, is cut into ‘coffins’ and baked until risen and crisp, they form the base. I think the only difference between ‘Professional Chefs’ and the ‘International Team’ at ‘The French House Party‘ was the fact different people working on different elements meant the lengths of pastry and top were sum-what different! Practise makes perfect.

The two pastries are ‘glued’ together with Caramel, being extremely careful to mind your fingers, Caramel (melted sugar) is VERY VERY hot! Crème pâtissière is piped on top of the Choux ‘coffin’.Photo 23-05-2017, 11 51 10I mentioned the Choux ‘lids’ earlier, we used them to ‘punch’ small discs of pastry, four per cake, they form part of the decoration and some random texture on top of the ‘Chantilly Cream’, which is piped on the Crème pâtissière as you can hopefully see in the picture.

We finally made some sugar work using a couple of forks and a spare pair of hands, pulling the sugar like cotton from a bobbin, making thin strands that could be quickly bundled together. You can see the final result of my efforts above, although it was definitely a team job with everyone making individual components that would come together at the end.Photo 23-05-2017, 11 32 06Vasily was in charge of the blow lamp, he is a lovely guy living in Switzerland but originally from Russia. He had a great sense of humour as do all the guests and mucked in and joked with the international cooking expedition! We made some small Lemon Tarts with a Meringue top, which he coloured with precision. (He is not trying to colour his fingers!!).Photo 23-05-2017, 11 31 11The final result looked like it came out of a professional pastry shop in London, Paul from America had done a fab job with the lemon cream which was nicely sharp, to offset the sweet crown of Meringue. Some grated Lemon zest finished things of nicely.Photo 22-05-2017, 13 45 02Let’s extract Chlorophyll from Rocket for a Financier, sounds like a good idea, never done that before!!!!

As you might be beginning to release, the word ‘Advanced’ was taken seriously in the title of this cooking course, we were introduced too, and learnt loads of new processes and techniques!

It was quite eye-opening to experience the trouble and effort professional chefs go through to stretch their expertise to the limit, and impress their customers with unusual creations. The Financier was accompanied by a Mint Syrup, and Rocket leaves sprinkled with Icing Sugar, it was really tasty.

An ‘exotic’ Fruit Log was also constructed, a Meringue base with Coconut, Caramel Cream, Vanilla Passion Mango Cream and Lychees.Photo 23-05-2017, 10 16 32‘Master Chef’ Vasily was in charge of the piping this time (I was glueing the Puff Pastry to the Choux Bun bases with the dangerous Caramel), others were preparing the Mango and Caramel Creams, it was all hands to the pump.Photo 23-05-2017, 12 04 25Before baking, the Meringue Logs were sprinkled with Coconut Powder and when cooked and cooled, layered with the Caramel Cream, then some Mango Cream, then another ‘log’ and repeated. Some added a third layer and used some of the Caramel to coat the sides, sprinkling crumbled Meringue like a pebbled wall, it was going a bit freestyle as people gained their confidence, I simply sprinkled some Meringue dust on the top of mine!Photo 23-05-2017, 12 09 37As the various desserts was put together by each member of the group the work surface looked like the back of a Patisserie, lining up with plates of colourful delights.

The two days with Jean-Mark have been fabulous, learnt loads, made some mistakes, laughter in bounds its been a fab time, and shame it has to end. We have one last treat which is a meal at his 1 Michelin star Restaurant on the last evening which we are all very much looking forward too.

………………………Until next time………………L8ers………………

 

 

Cooking &… more Cooking, Damn it’s so Good!

Photo 20-05-2017, 18 14 22It’s late and I have been having some great interaction with my new ‘buddie’ Marc. Today has been full on as usual, with a significant amount of cooking, processes, prepping food and spending a lot of time reducing sauces! The ‘international’ group is getting on really well, joking laughing and generally making fun at every opportunity!

Today’s menu(s) are quite (read very), comprehensive (read complicated) and included Haddock ‘Burger’ with Lime, Filet of Sea Bream au four, sautéed Squid with Vegetables and Squid Ink Sauce, Duckling with Honey Spiced Sauce, Cream Chiboust with Lemon, Strawberry Salad with Garriguette Basil.  Jeez my stomach is stretching already.Photo 21-05-2017, 10 23 03I am starting with what was probably the least squeamish (and easiest) thing to do, prepping the Squid. Removing the membrane that covers the white ‘flesh’. Getting rid of the ‘beak’,  the hard bony mouth that is inedible, sorting out the tentacles and then dealing with the body, it only takes a short while and all is done.Photo 21-05-2017, 11 53 24The Brioche style buns for the Haddock Burgers needed a couple of proving stages, they were buttery and rich, with a pillowy light texture, well worth the effort. Topped with sesame and poppy-seed to add both texture and flavour.Photo 21-05-2017, 16 29 10The duck was interesting, but in a really positive way coooking wise. I am not sure what happened but I just got on with it, maybe I have learnt enough but it came natural seperating the various components and in seconds the Breast, Thigh Wings etc. were done in the right way and lay before me, job done! Sorry Duck……Photo 21-05-2017, 17 56 31Oh, we had Bream to sort out too, another moment of hmmm, I think I know how to deal with this. It seems the past investment in cookery courses has finally payed off and confidence is growing and growing all the time.Photo 21-05-2017, 12 45 38The Haddock Burger (we had Haddock Fillets so no preparation needed), had a Onion relish to provide acidity, dressed leaves, baked Tomato and Lime cream, it was very tasty and very well-balanced. we all munched away commenting on our own personal tastes, all positive. The gang of seven is working like a well oiled engine, despite the language challenges which make translating ‘work orders’ from Robert even more interesting, he has the patience of a French Saint!photo-21-05-2017-16-42-27.jpgWe made some extremely complex sauces during the day. Hard frying the Duck carcass, adding Onion, Carrot and Celery followed by White Wine and Water and reducing by over 50% to provide a really full flavoured base, full of all the richness that the remaining Duck scraps could release. Photo 21-05-2017, 17 36 19These stocks, if done properly do take time but the investment is well worth while in both depth and layers of flavour, it’s what the professionals do. When at home I usually have days where i make a bulk load, and make up 1 pint freezer bags full, ready for when I need them.photo-21-05-2017-17-35-18.jpgWhilst the stock was doing its stuff in a separate pan we were getting a ‘spice base’ ready, Acacia Honey was cooked until a light to medium brown, then adding Sherry Vinegar, Orange and Grapefruit pieces, Fresh Ginger, Five Spice, Cinnamon,  White Pepper and the Coriander and finally topped up with the reduced Duck Stock, then reduce even further.photo-21-05-2017-10-00-15.jpgThe Squid did not escape either, Shallots, Fish Stock (from the Bream carcasses), Noilly-Prat and Lemon juice were reduced. Then Tomato skins and seeds etc. were added from Tomatoes we had turned into a concasse, then some crushed Garlic, Tomato Concentrate and Ground Almonds were added as the reducing continued, with Squid Ink being the final ingredient, Phewwwww!Photo 21-05-2017, 13 25 29The Squid dish was very complicated, but seriously tasty.  Lots of processes the end result was well worth the effort. We determined that about 70% of the time in preparation was in the stock’s and sauces, which were rich and umptious.photo-21-05-2017-09-52-26.jpgLittle goes to waste on these classes, making the most of all the ingredients is quite an important ethos to get into, stretching as far as using the some of the skins we removed from the Tomatoes to make an EXTREMELY tasty edible garnish, crispy Tomato Skins!

Yep, you heard it, spread some Olive Oil on a tray, lay the skins shiny side down and season, bake in the oven for about an hour on a low heat. Believe me, they were a revelation, you can see them strategically placed on the final squid dish above, along with some Filo diamond ‘crisps’, that added an additional pleasant texture.Photo 21-05-2017, 20 04 15We made what was a simple pepper suace to go with the Bream, accompaniement was lightly fried Courgette Julienne, it was a lovely plate of food. As we sit down to each meal, after several hours tuition and cooking there is always wine on the table, Red, White and Rosé to wash things down. Fresh bread of numerous types is also plentiful, useful for mopping up those sauces that required so much effort to make!Photo 21-05-2017, 20 43 01About 70% of an Artichoke is thown away during preparation, removing the leaves, cutting off the top and getting rid of the furry center they are an aquired taste, one that seems really enjoyable to me, probably in part due to the number of times I have visited France now. They are a bit fiddly and have to be left in acidulated water until needed as they dis-colour very quickly.

We had then with the Duck, along with some thickly sliced Mushrooms that had been fried in oil and butter.

Our first tutor Robert Abraham leaves us first thing, he is such a great cook and will be missed, but will be replaced by Jean-Marc Boyer who will bring a new dimension to the course (and some deserts, which should be interesting)!

……………………..Until next time……………L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

To revel in ‘Revel’ – Continuing International Adventures at The French House Party

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 23 26I woke up this morning feeling really good, the sun was shining and despite a late(ish) night there was a sense of excitement in my bones. The itinerary at The French House Party is full on, lots to pack in over a few days so the time is used wisely.

Breakfast was lovely, a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurt, Cheese and Ham of various sorts, Croissants, Baguette (the proper stuff) the choice was endless.

We were heading to Revel today, a quaint town with a 14th Century central Square and covered roof, Saturday is market day the reason for our trip.  I have been to Revel before but it is a place you find difficult to not be attracted to, if you are an adventurous foodie like me.

Locals mingling and bustling around the many stalls, buying and selling mostly food of the highest quality with some very unusual options as will become clear shortly.

I am becoming to believe you can tell the pulse and passion of a nation by its cuisine, more importantly how it un-ashamedly sticks to tradition which some may find challenging, Cuy (Guinea Pig in Peru), Cazu Marzu (Maggot Cheese) in Sardinia and France has a few favourites the most notable being (in my own mind) Escargots (Snails) and cuisses de grenouille (Frogs Legs)!2017-05-20 08.52.20Wandering around the many food stands was a delight, fresh artisan Goats cheese, stunning proper Bread that had come fresh out of the oven that morning, Aligote, a smooth blend of cheese and potato and………Ducks Hearts!!2017-05-20 09.14.03There was also a marinated variety, dowsed in Olive Oil and Piment d’Espelette a special variety of pepper from the Basque region of France, I so love the passion this country shows for regional specialities!

The market was buzzing, locals embacing the french tradition of kissing either cheek locally known as ‘faire la bise”, friends greeting as if they had not seen each other for months, live music rolling from the coffee shops entertaining the Gitaines smoking regulars downing coffee, strong enough to sink a battleship.

As an aside, I am writing this blog sampling a very good Domaine Samarel Red Wine listening to the French radio. I have a ‘Zippo’ size FM Stero Radio and doing a quick tune I can pick up over 30 (yes THIRTY) ANALOGUE STEREO radio stations 45 minutes from Toulouse, all rocking and good quality!!!!2017-05-20 09.31.07The market is considerably ‘savoury’ but also caters for the sweet tooth, which is a bit of a challenge for me but one of my new American serious foodie buddies (he is a chef and food traveller/journalist) said the Nougat was really good (that’s not quite accurate but you get my drift). #awesomePhoto 20-05-2017, 15 28 15Back in the mini bus we headed back to foodie ‘HQ’ to start the next cooking session, our ‘light lunch’. As we got ready the kitchen was prepared for us. This lunch was interesting, Sliced Potato, Herb Pesto (Rocket and Spinach), Roasted Tomato (only lightly) Salmon and White Cheese, followed by an Apricot Tart. By the way, our tutor Robert Abraham is an absolutely bl@@dy awesome cook with a lifetime of experience. He is VERY patient and open to ‘suggestions’ if they make sense. He puts a LOT of effort into the menus to ensure students learn as many techniques as possible.Photo 20-05-2017, 12 58 04The starter was extremely tasty, the Pesto had lost a little bit of its freshness (and vibrant colour) but that happpens sometimes, it was still so tasty though, quite rich and took about an hour to prepare. The white Cheese might be difficut to get in the U.K., it’s a bit like a Cream Cheese but a bit more runny. Drops of Sesame Oil on the Asparagus added another dimension.photo-20-05-2017-12-13-36.jpgSome of the tastiest food can be quite simplistic as in the case of the dessert, until I wanted to add a minor addition! A Simple flaky pastry, loaded with pitted fresh Apricots purchased earlier that day and sprinkled with Demerara Sugar. Nope, I wanted to try an experiment and add a savoury note, some Lemon Thyme. So we went 50/50 to compare the difference. (I obviously liked the addition of the Thyme but could had done with some more as the Apricots were very good and had a strong flavour).Photo 20-05-2017, 13 32 18After a break we were back in the kitchen, I said this course was full on! So here we go, Tandoori Style Roast Langoustines with baby Leeks.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 16 55Looks simple huh, hell no! There are a load of processes that go into making this dish, book the course to find out as I am not going to tell you, only that the result had everyone going oh, and ah. It was damn good. Yes, damn good.

The main was Young Lauragai Pigeon with Sweet Clover, Confit of Shallots, Carrots and Honey. You think the starter looked easy the main was full of even more processes. Our ‘group’ of guests is working really well together, old and relatively young we are having great fun, joking and laughing and putting the world to right at the same time which makes the whole experience so great.

One of the guests is Vasily, a Russian living in Switzerland. He is a genuinely lovely guy and we have all been having some great conversation whilst preparing mise en place and eating, drinking and sharing stories and life experiences.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 48 57We all agreed this dish was ‘bl@@dy rich’  but also ‘Bl@@dy Tasty’, it was awesome. This is my interpretation of the plating with a ‘Ying and Yang’ Carrot puree, the three Carrot Tronçon were cooked under a cartouche in Carrot juice, Orange Juice and another ‘secret’ ingredient! There is Pigeon Breast on Foie Gras, Pigeon Leg on Shallot Confit and the two sauces are Carrot and reduced Pigeon jus with some ‘special’ ingredients.Photo 20-05-2017, 20 34 25Anyone can cook a Chocolate Soufflé if they know the process. We used a Crème ‘Pat’ and Meringue mixture to great effect and the results were light, fluffy, silky and delicious.Photo 20-05-2017, 11 52 38So another adventerous day at The French House Party. It’s only day 2 and much has been learnt, the world has been put to rights multiple times, new cooking techniques  have been learnt, we have all probably gained at least an ounce in weight!

It’s an enlightening experience and really takes you way from the hustle and bustle of work which is the main reason I am attracted to these kinds of ‘holidays’. It’s hard work but VERY rewarding.

Breakfast at 8:00 and starting in the kitchen at 9:00 so time to call it a day.

………………………….Until next time…………….L8ers…………….

 

 

 

The French House Party – A Cookery Extravaganza of International Proportions!

2017-05-19 15.21.29Domaine Le Fort is a third generation vineyard in the most western part of the Languedoc on the outskirts of the  small hamlet of Montréal, a stones throw from my base for the week at The French House Party a cookery school run by Moira Martingale.

I’ve been to the cookery school here before, it’s very good, that good that I decided a return trip was needed to learn some more culinary skills from Robert Abrahams and Jean-Marc Boyer, two brilliant chefs, and to spend time with like minded foodies from around the world.

Setting of at 5 a.m. requires some dedication but so far I have not been disappointed, meeting new friends from as far as America and Switzerland as well as England we have all settled in and starting putting the world to rights over an amazing evening meal and local wines to help things along.photo-19-05-2017-19-51-49.jpgThe Domaine Le Fort was a surprise on the 1st day, having had a light but very tasty lunch we had some time to unwind after our journey or the offer a a quick tasting, so off we went!!

I think we tend to associate wines with geographical regions, an obvious statement you would say but to find Gewurztraminer and Riesling in this part of France was extremely surprising, even more so a Malbec which is typically Argentinian.2017-05-19 14.54.19I Love Gewurztraminer, but sometimes it can be a little too sweet the and Lychee fragrance which it is renowned for, a little too overpowering. This one was was just amazing, and thats with a capital A. and the price only 6 Euro’s. If I had driven, then a couple of cases would have ended up in the boot of the car.

We tried the Riesling, brilliant, the oaked Chardonnay, brilliant, the Malbec, brilliant it was a real pleasure to be drinking ‘artisinal’ wines from a local producer of such high quality. I bought a couple of bottles to bring home, it would be rude not to.photo-19-05-2017-20-13-54.jpgArriving back at the house we donned aprons and dived into the kitchen to prepare some canapés which was to be our formal introduction to Robert, our first tutor for the next few days.  photo-19-05-2017-18-37-21.jpgThe ‘Cheese Marshmallows’ were interesting and divided the group, with some saying ok, others bland, I think they were begging for some texture, others a hot sauce or even more cheese! We also prepared a salad of Prawns, Avocado, Lemon Juice and Herbs, some Cheese Straws and a ‘Cookie’ also made with Prawns Olives and Cheese which were very tasty.photo-19-05-2017-20-38-48-1.jpgThe debate carried on into the evening with respect to the Cheese Marshmallows,  we sat down for a 4 course dinner prepared by Robert, with matching local wines. Curried Mussel Soup, Bass with Mango, Lamb and a dessert of Cherries with Brioche Pain Perdu, all very tasty, you can see some of the dishes above.

That’s it for today, it’s 12:08 (at night) so time for some sleep, we go to the market 1st thing to get some produce and barter with the locals!

 

…………………………..Until next time………………..L8ers………………….