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………………….



Half Sphere or Dome, it’s up to you? My 1st Attempt at proper Patisserie

Having recently attended a Chocolate School with the very talented Mark Tilling, I was encouraged to ‘stretch’ myself a little bit and broaden my skills beyond making a properly tempered bar of Chocolate!

This is a personal thing, learn something new and then keep going until I get to a point where I cannot go any further and call it a day. I am still on that journey and each month find myself picking up a new skill or learning about a new ingredient or technique in the international world of food.As my regular readers will know, I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes last year so I have made subtle changes to my diet, no Sugar in Tea is the main one, and Desserts are an occasional treat, which to be honest is the way it has always been, I don’t have a really sweet tooth.  So I was looking to stretch myself again and decided to have a go at a ‘Dome’ cake, they look a bit challenging and having tried one of William Curley’s from his Boutique in Richmond a while back, if I was 50% as good it would be a result.

Looking through various sources like William Curleys’ Chocolate book, the internet etc. I could not find a complete recipe for the flavour profile I wanted to achieve so decided to have a go at designing my own, but using snippets from all the resources I could. I was learning on the way as much of what was required I had not done before. There was also an issue of equipment, I did not have much as I am a ‘savoury’ person so started to research what would make life easier and the essentials I needed and looked to find out where It could be purchased.

Please Read the whole blog post 1st as I have split it into the elements that make up the complete Dome Cake. Each Section will describe what it is, the ingredients, what equipment I used (so you might need to buy) and the technique. It IS my longest post… through necessity though.

It wasn’t easy, my other half though I was having a mid life crisis but if you take it step by step it can be achieved by anyone who is methodical and can follow recipes. The results are well worth it as my testers said when they sampled the results earlier this week, one asking for the recipe. Have a read and if you feel like a challenge, have a go.Sablé Breton

  • 350g Flour
  • 250g Butter (Salted)
  • 20g Baking Powder
  • 3 egg Yolks
  • 125g Sugar

I decided I wanted a texture on the base, not sponge or a variant of which there are several so went for a french version of shortbread, Sablé Breton. On it’s own its a lovely buttery slightly salty biscuit, utterly delicious. Mine has an added edge of Pistachio nuts that have been through a processor, and ‘glued’ around the edge with some Chocolate, yumm. The recipe is from my good friend Richard Bertinet, published in his book Pastry, which is well worth getting.If you have warm hands I would wash them under cold water, we want to grate all the Butter into the Flour which has been sieved with the Baking Powder and Sugar. Do it in stages so you can lift the flour with your hands and coats the butter so they become like breadcrumbs, as in the picture. Someone in the house had used the Brittany Salted Butter I had planned to include so had a ‘lightly’ Salted Butter and just added a little extra.

Add the eggs yolks and combine carefully, you don’t won’t to work the mixture too much, it should combine together if you apply some gently pressure into a dough and end up like below.Stick it into the fridge wrapped in clingfilm overnight, or for at least 4 hours. You can then gently roll it to a thickness of 3-4mm and cut with a 6mm round cutter and place on a lined baking tray. This is where I made my 1st mistake, it needs to go back into the fridge to firm up and I used a fluted cutter that was slightly bigger.

After cooking at 180 degrees for 18 minutes they ‘spread’ out a bit and ended much larger than I wanted, you can see this in the picture of the final product, the visible gap between the dome and the edge of the Pistachio crumb, it’s all part of the learning!Mango Créme Brûlée

  • A Mango (not 2 as in the picture)
  • 200ml Whipping Cream
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Tbl Caster Sugar

I made the Brûlée the same day as the biscuit base as they both need some time to rest, or in the case of the Brûlée, freeze in little moulds. The moulds are 15 Cavity 3D Semi Sphere Silicone 29.8*17.4*1.9cm and available from Amazon for about £4. They took several weeks to arrive so you need to get an order in quick.We need to cook the Mango after it has been peeled and sliced. Mine took about 40 minutes on a low heat, I added a dash of Water half way through to stop the Mango sticking and burning on the base. We do this because Mango is quite fibrous and we want to break it down as much as possible. Brûlée’s should be smooth and silky so we will be sieving the final product anyway, but it’s worth going through this stage to get a much flavour as possible.Once the Mango is cooked it needs some serious blitzing. We have a ‘Ninja’ which made the Mango into a puree in no time at all. Brûlée means burnt or scorched Cream so we have to heat the Cream, Mango and Sugar up to a point that it has just boiled and started to rise up the sides of the pan, then take it off the heat.

We can then tip a little of the mixture into the Egg Yolks and whisk fast, and then add that mixture into the remaining Cream and Mango, like making a Custard. We have to be careful that we don’t end up with scrambled eggs so take time over this.

You then have to pass the mixture through a sieve, it will need some help with the back of the spoon, you need a smooth silky texture so we have to remove all the fibrous Mango from the mixture otherwise it will be grainy. As we have in effect made a custard, we need to GENTLY cook it so set the oven to about 130-140 degrees add some water to the tray like a Bain Marie, and cook for about 18 minutes. Don’t overcook or it will split and you will end up with scrambled eggs!Then, pop in the fridge to set. After an hour or two, pop into the Freezer, we need them frozen to get their White Chocolate and Lime coating before going into the Coconut Mousse.

You will notice one of the Brûlée missing in the picture below, although I only needed 7 Dome cakes I made 12 and had some spare Mango inserts as I wanted to test each stage in case I went wrong, and have a couple spare for the family of course!These are the Sable Bréton after 18 mins at 180 degrees, golden and delicious they need to cool right down and go into an air tight tin as we won’t need them for a day or so.So we have our Frozen Brûlée. You could miss this next step but I wanted to add another textural component into the dish along with a subtle surprise of citrus in the form of Lime.

Firstly, Let’s talk Chocolate, well actually Couverture. Couverture chocolate is a very high-quality chocolate that contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter (32–39%) than baking or eating chocolate. This additional cocoa butter, combined with proper tempering, gives the chocolate more sheen, a firmer “snap” when broken, and a creamy mellow flavour.

I get my Chocolate from Chocolate Trading Co, they have a good deal on at the moment HERE 3 x 1Kg Callebaut Plain, Milk and White (really good Chocolate) for just over £21.

The plan was to coat the frozen Brûlée in a layer of tempered White Chocolate with the addition of some Lime Zest. Using  a wire cooling rack, demould the Brûlée and place the rack over a baking tray to catch the drops and stick back into the freezer until the Chocolate is ready.The tempering process used provides the textural ‘snap’ that would not happen if you just ‘melted and poured’.  Traditionally quite complex tempering has been simplified by the use of something called MyCryo, which is readily available online and is in reality powdered Cocoa Butter.

You need to use 1% of MyCryo by weight so as you can see above, 195 Grams of Chocolate needs 1.95 Grams of MyCryo, hence the ‘posh’ scales which allow really small measurements to be made. The scales are an investment and cost about £30 but will last you a lifetime if looked after and can manage 0.01 gram increments which is also useful if you are looking at using MyCryo or agar agar gelling agent.As you can see from the notes above, for White Chocolate we need to heat to 40-45 degrees, err on caution and keep to the lower end. Use a Metal bowl over hot water, a Digital Thermometer is needed to do this properly, again easily available online for a few pounds.

Stir the Chocolate with a spatula not forgetting to add some Lime zest until the Temperature drops to 33-34 degrees, add the MyCryo and keep stirring. When the Chocolate reaches 29-30 degrees grab the frozen Brûlée from the freezer and gently pour over. It’s a bit fiddly as the Chocolate wants to set straight away but persevere and it will be ok, albeit maybe a little thick (2-3 mm).

Next time I will probably paint on using a small pastry brush to ensure a thinner layer, unless I can work out how to thin the chocolate without affecting its flavour and setting strength (i.e. not runny)!

Time to take a break until the following day……………………………………….

Coconut Mousse

Apologies but I didn’t manage to capture a couple of the pictures for the next stages as I was partly doing things as I went and it was becoming a bit mentally challenging. I had to convert American cup measures and work out how to use professional gelatin which I had not done before, and some of the volume calculations were interesting!

Searching the web, the majority of Coconut Mousse recipes also contained Chocolate something I didn’t want as it would be too sweet so ended up looking at a couple of ideas and ‘knocking up’ my own! The Gelatin Sheets I used from Sous Chef are 23cm x 7 cm and weigh 2.5 grms (approx). Each sheet can set 100ml of fluid into a soft texture, but are affected by milk products, sugar (sets firmer) and alcohol (too strong sets looser).

You may recall in the recipe the Coconut Milk needs to go into the fridge, this helps the Cream rise to the top and the Water to the bottom. Carefully remove the Cream from the top into a measuring jug as we need to know the quantity to work out how much Gelatin we will add. Note the Cream quantity add the Coconut Cream quantity round up to the nearest 100ml and use 1 sheet per 100ml plus 1 extra to take into account of the alcohol we are using, we will end up with a firm set Mousse (hopefully)!

Whisk 3/4 of the Double Cream with the Sugar, Malibu and Salt until firm, over whipping and you will have Butter! Fold in the Coconut Cream and put into the fridge. The Gelatin needs to ‘bloom’ or swell in cold water (5 times its weight) for 5- 8 minutes before squeezing and adding to a small pan with the remaining Cream on a low heat to melt.  Heat to 37-40 degrees stirring all the time.  Take off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes, then fold into the Coconut Cream mixture and put back in the fridge.You can see in the picture above the Mousse layer, with the White Chocolate covered Mango Brûlée in the centre of the cake. You will now need 2 x Large Hemisphere dome silicone pan 6 holes 29.5 x 17.5 x 3.3cm, about £3 from Amazon.

Take the Brûlées out of the Freezer, lay your moulds on a baking tray and 1/2 fill with the Mousse. Place a Brûlée dome side down in each ‘hole’ and fill to the edge with the Mousse. Be CAREFUL not to overfill as thy will not sit on the base properly as some of mine didn’t.  Place in the Fridge for an hour or two until set, then into the Freezer overnight.

Next day……………………………..

The Dome Cakes need a glaze, a shiny coating to finish them off. I looked at several, White Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Cocoa based but opted for a recipe in William Curleys‘ Book ‘Patisserie‘, this time using the Callebaut Dark Chocolate. It’s a brilliant book, buy it!

Dark Chocolate Glaze

  • 260 ml Whipping Cream
  • 50 grm Caster sugar
  • 40 grm liquid glucose
  • 250 grm dark chocolate (chopped)

Add the Sugar, Cream and Glucose to a pan, heat until boiling, slowly add the Chocolate stirring all the time until melted, pour into a jug and put in Fridge to cool a bit. That’s it.Let’s sort out the Sablé Breton next. Take a good handful of Pistachio Nuts and blitz them in a blender, not too fine as we want a bit of texture. I use Pistachios a lot, in Middle Eastern Cooking and find the ones in the shops are ‘ok’ but usually have a brown skin which will not look (or taste) nice. They are also quite expensive so I made an investment and purchased a Kilo of skinned Iranian Pistachios as in the picture above, again from Sous Chef who are a very good online supplier.

Melt a handful of Milk and White Chocolate and gently roll the edge of each biscuit in the crumb, press gently and set aside to set. They are moorish on their own, you could also use Hazelnut’s but the flavour profile will be different, this is a sort of Far Eastern concept.This bit was challenging as I had never done it before. The glaze needs to be at about 70 deg F (runny but not hot). Take the domes out of the Freezer, de-mould and place flat side down on a cooling rack over a baking tray. I had a sheet of baking paper underneath to capture the excess. Gently pour over, I started at the middle and used a gentle circular motion slowly moving to the outside. Put back into the Freezer for 5-10 minutes. Repeat the the process and back into the Freezer. Almost done!!!To serve I put a bit of the leftover glaze in the middle of the Sablé Breton and using a small offset stepped palette knife gently placed the dome on top. Then Enjoy.

At the beginning of this exercise I was hoping to achieve 50% of what William Curley does with his amazing patisserie, and think I was pretty close. Lots of learning on the way which is always good and the end result is quite impressive in looks and tastes delicious.

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

Green Jackfruit Rendang, Pad Thai, Vegetarian!! Jeez, A Day with the amazing Jackie Kearney at Season Cookery School

I was watching Masterchef (UK) the other night after a long day at work. It’s a usual routine for me, GBBO Créme del a Créme, Rick Stein, anything but the soaps which I started to turn off over 20 years ago as they were just too depressing!

That particularly evening there were 3 guest judges, Sara Danesin, Tim Anderson and Jackie Kearney, three previous contestants.  Tim was champion in 2011 and specalises in Japanese cuisine, Sara and Jackie were finalists Jackie being the first vegetarian to get to 4th place, an amazing accolade.

I was fortunate to spend a day with Jackie the previous Saturday, a last minute booking at the Season Cookery School near Winchester and 7 or so hours of watching, listening, learning practising and lots of friendly banter and conversation about food and life in general.This was a VERY popular course, over twenty of us paired up around the numerous workstations, the Season Cookery School is extremely well equipped and Jackie gave everyone time and attention as we worked our way through the various dishes.

Now, I am a meat eater, I am not a vegetarian. This week I have been having a go at making an ‘intricate’ Dome Cake, ha, yep, and one of the team I work with (my testers) is a Vegan. Unfortunately despite buying, Pectin, Agar Agar and who knows what else I struggled to come up with a Vegan version that would be ‘relatively’ simple for a 1st timer (and tastes good). The Dome Cake will be on the blog later and my Vegan friend unfortunately missed out this time round.

So back to the vegetarian subject, I DO like vegetarian food, occasionally choose it when I am dining, and I have published a few recipes on the Blog like my favourite,  Apple and Celeriac Salad with Butternut Squash Stew which I have to say is AWSOME, and way way back I did a ‘Melanzane Ripiene’, an Aubergine Dish stuffed with 3 Cheeses and baked in a rich Tomato Sauce which is quite ‘meaty’ for a vegetarian dish.So, on the menu we had Beef Rendang & Green Jackfruit Rendang! Yes there were meat options too so all tastes were catered for, Pad Thai (Egg Noodles) with Prawns, Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Vegetables, Murtabak (Malaysian Stuffed Crispy Pancake), along with making Curry Pastes from scratch and a really very good Chilli Sambal which was like Sriracha on Adrenaline!!I have cooked both Malaysian and Thai food before, you will find numerous recipes on this blog but I am still glad I invested the money to attend as I learnt so much more around technique which was one of the reasons for booking in the first place.

For example, there is a particular ingredient called Kerisik which is made from Coconut. I cooked a Beef Short Rib Rendang last year which you can find here: Back to August 2016! but the technique for making the Keresik was nowhere near as good as Jackie’s, you will have to attend her course to find out more I am afraid.You can see that each person has a good amount of workspace with a shared Induction Hob and Oven, Knives are VERY sharp, supplied by Flint & Flame and the various drawers contain pots, pans and all the other equipment you will need such as peelers, tongs etc.

Another important aspect of any cooking is the preparation, and I am pretty confident that most times when I have made a hash of something, it is because my ‘Mise en Place’ has not been up to scratch (normally because I am tired)! Putting in place is a french term that means lets get everything weighed out and prepared so when we start to cook, we have all our ingredients to hand.

This is crucial for the 1st dish we cooked, Pad Thai. I think it took 3 1/2 minutes to cook from the 1st ingredient hitting the pan. Prior to this, Jackie had taken us through the flavour profiles for the piquant sauce we were going to make, to cook the dish. We also learnt the importance of preparing the noodles correctly so they did not end up soggy and claggy! The Rendang was started at the beginning of the day as it had to cook for several hours, and two variants were prepared. One with Beef for the meat eaters and the other with Green Jackfruit, something I had never heard of before! It’s a big beast, with fruit capable of reaching 35Kg and between 100 – 200 fruits being produced per tree each year.We had our Jackfruit in cans, it looks a little bit like Pineapple and when we got to taste the Rendang Curry it had a very subtle fruity taste but also savoury at the same time, it was quite delicious and something I will be looking out for in the future.Jackie was great fun and very engaging, her life story is fascinating starting in the NHS and then deciding to ‘chuck it all in’ and move into the food industry via some serious trips abroad with the family. Some of the stories she told were really very funny and she was able to cook and talk at the same time which is actually quite difficult if you watch Saturday Kitchen, and see some of the presenters falter!Murtabak‘ sounds interesting. Another dish and some new skills to learn we prepared a Stuffed Crispy Pancake using extra large spring roll pastry wrappers. A filling of Chicken poached with slices of Ginger or Galangal, Potato with various spices and then the folding and rolling which has to be nice and ‘tight’, they were delicious served with the Chilli Sambal that was also prepared earlier.As usual, there were a number of ‘helpers’ clearing stuff away and making sure we had everything we needed, and Sylvain who runs the Season School was an active participant also getting stuck in when needed.

We started at 9:30 and finished about 4:00 – 4:30, its hard work and you come away with a sense of satisfaction and any remaining leftovers to take home and polish of later. It was a really good day, I was a bit apprehensive about the size of the class but in practise it worked well, I was paired with another veteran of cookery courses and we got on really well.I had an amazing day with Jackie, Sylvian and the rest of the ‘pupils’ it was hard work, great fun and highly recommended.

As usual I paid full price for attendance and the views are my own and not influenced in any way by anybody just in case you think I might have been persuaded to write this, I was NOT.

My next post will be the exercise in making a ‘Dome’ Cake, with Coconut, Mango, Sable Bréton, Pistachio and a whole load of other ingredients. I have already been asked for the recipe so they apparently taste pretty good, they are not too sweet though.


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






Dairy Lard and Olive Oil, Oh, and Bomba – All about Spain with Omar Allibhoy at The Bertinet Cookery School

The weather was miserable as I jumped onboard the train to Bath Spa station, on arrival the sun was shinning out of The Bertinet Cookery School as Spanish Chef Supremo Omar Allibhoy was in town, teaching 12 eager cookery enthusiasts and I was on the list!

I booked this course a while back having invested in ‘Tapas Revolution’ over 4 year’s ago, which was Omars’ first book. I spent most of my wife’s birthday in 2013 preparing various Tapas which featured in the book and posted on an earlier blog post HERE. It was also our silver wedding anniversary that year so a good excuse to have some tasty food, I still remember it to this day.

There were 12 of us on the course (a full house) and as usual some familiar faces, friends that had been on previous courses we all settled in very quickly and learnt what the agenda was for the day.We were going to prepare several dishes from different parts of Spain and at the end sit down on the communal table and ‘feast’, which is always a pleasant and fitting end to several hours graft in the kitchen! On the menu was Gazpacho de Sandia (chilled Watermelon soup), Higaditos al Jerez Dulce (Chicken Livers with Sweet Sherry and Spices), Arroz Melosos de Seta (Paella with Mushrooms and Cod), Ensaidmada Mallorquina (Rolled Flaky Pastry).Blimey, apart from the really tasty and slightly un-familiar menu some new techniques to get to grips with, we started on the Mallorcan dessert. An enriched dough was made using an ‘industrial’ grade mixer purely due to the quantity we were making, you could do this in a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid quite easily. We had to get the gluten working hard so this was not a 5 minute process, once done (about 10-15 minutes), the dough was left to rest whilst we worked on the other dishes.As we followed through the menu, Omar spent lots of time explaining some of the interesting facts about Spanish Cuisine, it’s ‘subtle’ not in your face and I personally think it’s a shame that a vast number of tourists only seem to focus on fast food chains and ‘British fry up’s’, Spain has so much more to offer if you make a little effort.

You can think of Spain as lots of regional cook books we learnt, the climate also dictates the methods of cooking but you will have to try and book a course with Omar to find out more, its really interesting.The Ensaidmada was challenging to make, several processes were required after the dough had rested as you can see from the pictures above. I imagined dear old Spanish ladies working away in their kitchens making everything from hand including making the dough without a mixer!

It’s hands on with resting between each process, you are making a VERY thin pastry by hand, which also has a layer of ‘Pork Lard’ spread thinly on top.  Yes, you heard it right, ‘Lard’ is an integral part of this very special dessert.We had some prepared Stock on the hob which was going to be used to make the Paella dish. This was not a traditional ‘dry’ Paella so familiar to tourists but  a ‘sloppy’ one even beyond the wetness of a Risotto.

Omar took time again to explain the Spanish Rice ‘Bomba‘, don’t believe all you read though, speak to a Spanish cook who know what they are talking about as it’s a challenging Rice to use and timing is critical to get a perfect result. We had to reduce the Stock and add ‘hard’ fried Onion, Pepper and Mushrooms with Tomato, Paprika and Saffron before going back to the dessert to finish the preparation.So, we are making a dessert and then add Sobrasada melted into more Pork Lard and spread it all over the stretched dough, Yummmmm!

There are several variants of this dessert, we were going to make both a sweet and savoury version. Once spread gentle rolling is required, I was fortunate to be working with Vivien, who unfortunately had broken her arm a few days previous but still joined in as much as she could. If you have an interest in Preserves, please check out http://www.vivienlloyd.com  as she is an expert in traditional methods and runs courses etc. (I didn’t get paid for the plug btw, she was great fun to work with).Who loves Chicken Livers? Surprisingly Omar put his hand up as he asked the question. Fine in Parfait and pâté but cooked, nope, except this way.  This was to be an appetizer to get the taste buds singing before the Gazpacho. Marinated in some ‘special’ ingredients you can find the recipe in Omar’s new book ‘Spanish Made Simple’, I invested in a copy before departing and look forward to cooking some of the recipes within.Rather than just show and tell, Omar was also hands-on, assisting and guiding all 12 of us during the 5-6 hours of cooking we were to complete before sitting down and eating our efforts. He was very enthusiastic and great fun, telling us more about his experiences in the restaurant industry and giving us hints and tips as we prepared each dish.

Also in the kitchen were the ‘Bertinet Baker Girls’ who cleaned, helped clear up, sort out ingredients, make teas/coffees, snacks etc. They always do an amazing job and help make the sessions run very smoothly.You have to stretch the Ensaidmada before ‘gently’ coiling and allowing to prove for a couple of hours, traditionally this would be done overnight to develop more flavour but our time was limited. Once risen it goes into a hot oven until a deep brown, not the light golden colour we are normally used to when baking.Ignore the ‘rustic’ look of the Chicken Livers, they were to die for, absolutely delightful, tangy, sweet and soft. We served them on some toasted Sour Dough and decided to crack open the wine at the same time as dinner was nearly ready and quick taster of these would get us over the line.The Ensaidmada’s were ready in about 19 minutes at 190deg, the top one is the savoury version, you can seen small pieces of Sobrasada speckled on the surface. The Gazpacho was probably the easiest dish we made, assemble the ingredients and whizz in a blender. Adding Melon was unusual but it was not long before we sat done and started tasting, chatting and talking about the techniques we had learnt and discussing food in general.The Gazpacho was delicious, it was quite hot in the cookery school so a cool refreshing slightly sweet starter did the job perfectly. Bomba Rice is very picky, you HAVE to get the timings correct otherwise you end up with over cooked grains that are like sludge. Shortly after finishing our starter the Arroz Melosos De Seta was ready for the final ingredient to be added, Salt Cod. This only needed a few minutes and we were ready to serve.You can see the slightly ‘sloppy’ nature of the dish in the picture above. It is supposed to be like this, wetter than a Risotto it did taste subtle and was also delicious, the Paprika creating warmth and smokiness, the mushrooms meatiness and the Rice had textures but probably not the al dente described in Italian Cuisine, it was slightly beyond that stage.Once the Ensaidmada is cooked both versions are given a good coating of Icing sugar. The savoury version might be considered a bit like the Moroccan Pastilla dish, Pigeon Pie with Cinnamon and Icing Sugar in Filo Pastry, but in this case we are using Sobrasada which is a cured spicy Pork.  It was unusually delicious again, difficult to describe unless you can taste it yourself.

So, another cookery course over, Omar was brilliant and everyone was commenting on how much fun we had, and lots learnt too. These days are hard work but really good fun, for me time to mentally escape from day to day life they provide an environment to learn new skills meet people with similar interests and most important add to the repertoire in the kitchen with dishes from around the world.

A big thank-you to Richard Bertinet who is able to attract some seriously good Chefs who are also good at teaching, these skills do not often come in the same package. A massive thank-you to Omar Allibhoy  who took time out of running a significant business to teach 12 people some skills and techniques you cannot easily learn from a book, if you get the chance to go on a course with Omar, book quickly!

As usual, I paid full price for this course and received no incentive to write this blog, the description above is my personal experience and one I would highly recommend.


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



No, NOT Chocolate, it’s Couverture…. The Proper Stuff! A Day with Champion Chocolatier Mark Tilling at Season Cookery School.

photo-26-02-2017-16-02-24It’s been a tough couple of months with our little one taking up a lot of time through illness. The chance to ‘escape’ for a day was offered by the missus and searching for an interesting cooking course at the last minute, (my way of completely relaxing) was proving a challenge in itself.  My usual haunt was fully booked so an alternative was needed, a creature of habit, looking at the various descriptions and options available I finally remembered ‘Season’, The Exclusive Cookery School at Lainston House Hotel in Hampshire. I was in luck, a full day Chocolate Masterclass with an ‘expert’. Seconds’ later it was booked, only 4 days to go!photo-26-02-2017-11-17-28I have never worked with Chocolate before as I am more of a savoury person, there are a couple of sweet entries in the blog but my recent (last year) diagnoses of Type I Diabetes means I tend to keep away from such food, but I do like learning new skills and this was to be no exception. We started the day with drinks and pastries, the school can hold up to 24 people from memory but as there were only 5 of us it was quite intimate.

So in 2006 UK Chocolate Master, 2007, 12th in the WORLD Chocolate Master Championship in Paris, 2008, UK Chocolate Master, 2009 7TH in the WORLD Chocolate Masters Final in Paris, if there was a person to learn about the sweet stuff this guy Mark Tilling must know the odd trick and tip!! To top the lot, he and a couple of colleagues also won the 1st BBC Bake of Créme de la creme baking competition in 2016, I remember watching it on TV.photo-26-02-2017-11-19-29You would not believe what goes into producing the ‘callets’, tiny buttons of Chocolate used to make all sorts of sweet delights. Chocolate is very complex to produce and the 1st session introduced us all into where and how it grows, the pollination, harvesting, and each of the many stages it takes to produce a product you can work with.

Mark is a very friendly engaging and excellent tutor, ably assisted on the day by Sylvain, the Manager of the Cookery School, We were shown how to ‘temper’ Chocolate, this is critical and prevents ‘blooming’ where the surface goes white and ensures a really good ‘snap’! Heating, lowering the temperature, adding some magic ingredient and lowering the temperature even more and you are done. Damn, guess who forgot to add the magic ingredient. You have to start all over again !! We used the lovely little Digital Thermometer all day to check  as it has to be very precise to get the good and bad crystals ( the result of the process) sorted properly. Oh, and it takes time, you HAVE to be patient.photo-26-02-2017-13-47-09As we went about making bars of flavoured Chocolate, Champagne Ganache, filled moulds to make the shells for the Ganache, learned how to used Chocolate transfers………. we learnt LOADS, and had fun getting covered in the stuff at the same time. Stopping for a really delicious lunch we carried on debating, asking questions and generally chatting about food and …… Chocolate, it was really very good.photo-26-02-2017-12-46-54Making the Shells for the Ganache was really tricky, and messy for those of us that had not done this before,  ladling the warm, sweet, sticky delicious liquid into the Mould the right way, inverting the mould, tapping to release enough, and then laying to set before going in the fridge so as to not ‘shock’ the Chocolate, my attempt above was ok, the results came out quite well for a beginner!photo-26-02-2017-14-17-08We used quite a few piping bags during the day too, the Cookery School is VERY well equipped with everything needed, and there was no washing up required, all the clearing and cleaning was done for us as we did use quite a few bowls. Tea’s and Coffees, Water and Soft Drinks were all available as and when you needed a quick respite!photo-26-02-2017-17-08-22Mark is the UK Ambassador for Callebaut Chocolate, we used lots of it during the sessions and my order for 3Kg is just about to be placed. It’s DELICIOUS, says the wife!! We had lots of quality ingredients to play with, one of my bars of Chocolate was Sea Salt and Pistachio, they were the best Pistachio’s I have ever seen and tasted!! I would recommend shopping around if you want to have a go, I found an internet wholesale site that can provide Callebaut White, Milk and Dark a Kilo of each for just under £20, which will last for ages, they sell to non-trade and it has a great shelf life.photo-26-02-2017-17-07-26This is an AMAZING course, I did have my doubts initially as I had never been to this Cookery School before, but we learnt so much during the day it was EXCELLENT value for money. I did pay full price and the comments are my own personal reflection of the experience. The morsels above are the Champagne Ganache filled Chocolate Shells, with a Gold Dust effect on the top and one side, I was well chuffed with them considering how ‘challenging’ they are to make.

If you fancy doing something a bit different and learning from a true champion Mark Tilling at Season Cookery School is more than highly recommended, I am going to be spending some more time with Mark later in the year if diary and wallet allows, it was brilliant.

…………………………………Until next time L8er’s…………………………

Hola, buenos dias José Pizzaro – A trip to San Sebastián at Bertinets’ Cookery School

photo-04-02-2017-14-48-18San Sebastián in the Basque community of Spain has more Michelin starred restaurants per square metre than any other city in the world, in fact since 2002 Spain has been in the top 3 BEST restaurant in the world locations and had the number 1 spot SEVEN times. elBulli had held 5 of those but closed in 2011 with El Celler de Can Roca taking over the top spot in 2013 and 2015.

So it was with great excitement that I was to spend a day with José Pizzaro at Bertinets’ Cookery School in Bath, and learn some new skills and better understand the cuisine of the Basque region of France, something I have been keen to do for a while now. I booked this course last year and couldn’t wait for the day to arrive, I had purchased the book Basque last year too which José had penned, and already tried a couple of recipes with great success so I was hoping a day spent with this Spanish legend would improve my capability in the kitchen.dsc_0012The course was fully booked, 12 of us with  good mix of people of all ages and nice to see some other guys on a cookery course for a change. There were some friendly faces from previous events that many of us new, it was a bit like a school or family reunion and in no time at all we were all chatting about food and looking forward to settling down and getting stuck in.img_-x045twThings started with an introduction and a couple of demonstrations. After being told about Bacalao (Salted Cod), and preparing it for cooking, the art of making ‘Béchamel’ for the ‘Croquetas’ was shown as it’s a slow methodical process to produce a smooth silky base for the many ingredients you can add, ours being Goats Cheese and Spinach which was very nice too.dsc_0005We learnt a few hints and tips but you will have to try and get on a course to find out the tricks of the trade. Trying to manipulate a ‘Boquerone’ (Anchovy) into a pitted Spanish Gordal Olive can be quite challenging when the available space in the Olive versus surface area of the Anchovy don’t quite want to agree to work with each other!img_-2u7z65San Sebastián appears to have a lot going for it, apart from the Michelin starred restaurants it is one of the most famous destinations in Spain, which looking at the annual rain chart seems rather surprising! Along with some quality restaurants the area is also famous for pintxos a local Tapas or snack. The stuffed Olives were to be one such Pintxos, along with the Croquetas, and some Padron Peppers.dsc_0006We had a couple of Boquerone left (actually loads, José had bought along a big tub!) so also prepared some marinated, sprinkled with finely chopped Garlic and given a good douse in Extra Virgin Olive Oil which were divine on some of Richards famous bread, given a quick toast and sprinkle of Olive Oil too. We had a quick taster during one of the famous coffee breaks (well, more than a taster actually as they were delicious).dsc_0015To make this Cookery School so good, apart from having an awesome range of regular and guest Chefs, Richard Bertinet has a well organised and experienced team of smiley happy people who are on hand to help, guide, advise, fetch, clean, make me Earl Grey Tea and the others coffee! and fill in where we need to get things done. photo-04-02-2017-14-25-53Dessert was to be an absolutely delicious Caramelised Vanilla Pear Dish with Hazelnut Ice Cream and as we had to keep an eye on other dishes, two of the team made sure the Ice Cream was finished and the Hazelnut praline was suitably ‘crunched’ (sorry, these two lovely ladies were new and I did not get their names!). We were split up up into 3 groups of four for the day and ours decided to sneak in some of Richards famous Rum soaked Dates to add a bit of ‘zing’ to the dessert and glad we did too, very very tasty.
dsc_0019José Pizzaro, what a absolutely lovely teacher and thoroughly decent chap. As we were preparing the dishes (7 if you include the Pintxos) he would come round and assist, guide and chat, always with a big smile and lots of encouragement. During the numerous times he showed us particular techniques he prompted us to ask whatever questions we liked, and we certainly learnt a lot about his background, coming to England over 16 years ago and the restaurant trade in general.dsc_0028So, on the menu today is;

  • Padron Peppers (They were eaten pretty much during the break, 2 plates of them!)
  • Boquerones with Garlic & Extra Virgin Olive Oil (One plate of those also got devoured in the break!)
  • Gordal Olives Stuff with White Anchovies (They didn’t last long either!)
  • Spinach and Goats Cheese Croquetas (They made it to the dinner table)
  • Swiss Chard Stew with Pimenton
  • Bacalao a la vizcaina (A Basque dish using salted Cod)
  • Caramelised pears and vanilla, and Hazelnut Ice Cream (and some Rum infused Prunes!)

We cooked LOADS, if was really good fun and everyone learnt lots too. Some of the subtle things you pick up include how to plan menus and work out what needs cooking when. The Béchamel needs to cool right down, so get that done first, the Stew needs to ‘Stew’, and the vizcaina needs time to cook so get those on after the Béchamel, Ice Cream needs to Freeze etc. etc. etc.photo-04-02-2017-13-31-42The Day at the school always finishes with a communal meal, everyone sitting down to enjoy the labours of the day, copious amounts of wine on flow (unless you are driving like me) and chatting about the food, what we had learnt, what course we were going to book next etc. This was my Sixth visit, others had been on over 10 courses, it’s very good indeed.

Thank you José for sharing your extensive knowledge and experience and Richard again for making it happen.

So there we have it, another great day cooking and making new friends, take a look at Richard Bertinets’ School HERE (I don’t get a commission, I paid the same price as everyone else for this trip, the views are my honest opinion and I WILL be going back for more later in the year).


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

Michelin, Monkfish and Mmmmmmm!

20170107_173251_001The last time I cooked Monkfish was in 2015, whilst in France at the French House Party Cookery School. Having checked back, Médallions de Lotte Safrantées, Arlequin du Jardin was on the menu, Medallions of Monkfish with Saffron & Seasonal Vegetables, you can see the results below. Our teacher was a Michelin starred Chef, I have the pleasure of his company again this year in May, very exciting.

FHP Day 4 028Being the start of the new year, trying to find some ‘healthier’ lighter dishes has been on the agenda which can be difficult when the weather is cold and blustery, nights draw in quickly and the tendency is to focus on Stews, Casseroles which are heartier and more fulfilling.

Inspiration came from Rick Stein and his ‘Long Weekends’ programs, Monkfish Fritters with Cumin, Garlic and Pimentón which in the book accompanying the series, looked very tasty. Ricks’ version is positioned as a starter, with a Mustard Mayonnaise, as this was to be a main course I came up with a Mushroom, Mustard and Madeira Sauce (with Parsley), and added some Potatoes Fried in Olive Oil. The ingredients are in the heading picture, Monkfish was £29Kg from my local supplier so you may wish to pick another fish such as Cod or Pollack which is cheaper. You need about 150 – 20o grams per person.

20170107_181840Whichever Fish you decide to use, it needs marinating for at least 2 hours. Smoked Paprika, Garlic, Sherry Vinegar, Oregano, Cumin, Pepper and Salt along with a bit of water make up the marinade, Spanish Flavours which add a delicious piquancy.

Whilst the Fish is soaking up the flavours you can start work on the potatoes, I used some ‘New Potatoes’ boiled in their skins and left to cool before gently peeling and slicing.

20170107_180305You can also work on the sauce beforehand, frying some thinly sliced button mushrooms in Olive Oil and a little butter before adding a small amount of Vegetable Stock Cube and a dash of water to dissolve it. The sauce was a ‘cook by andaza’ or estimation, something taught to me by Sumayya Usmani who wrote the very successful cookery book ‘Under the Tamarind Tree’. I had the great pleasure to attend a couple of her day courses, great fun and a real insight into the foods of Pakistan and the lesser known parts of ‘Middle Earth’.

I added a ‘slurp’ of White Wine and let it reduce, then a ‘dollop’ of Grain Mustard, a ‘tad’ of Dijon Mustard followed by a ‘glug’ of Madeira, tasting as I progressed, then some seasoning. This continued until the flavour was correct, finally some Double Cream and more seasoning. Job done the sauce was covered and put to once side whilst the rest of the dish was completed. Now that would be an interesting cookery book!!20170107_200811The Potatoes had cooled and skins removed, boiling with the skins on definitely imparts a better favour and is my preferred technique for mash as well as fried. I used Olive Oil from Puglia, Organic and great value for money from Riverford Organic, and delivery is free if ordered with a Veg box!

20170107_203337Almost done, The Fish needs draining and dredging in Semolina before frying in the Olive Oil. You may have noticed I have only used one pan for this recipe, my new friend the Netherton Prospector which is doing a great job. I also have a frying pan from Netherton Foundry which will be put to use very soon!

This bit IS a bit tricky, and may need some practise. The Semolina seems to have a habit of falling off, I think the temperature of the fat was a bit too low as the second batch were much better. As there is no ‘glue’ involved such as egg and flour we are relying on moisture and pure determination!

20170107_203828Yes, I know I need to work on my presentation a lot (unlike my previous attempt at the top of the page), but the meal was very tasty indeed. I opted to serve the sauce in a ramekin as it was a bit neater, it really worked with the Monkfish (the bosses words, not mine). This dish is easy to make, very very tasty and quite light, and could be served with a salad of Red Onion and Tomatoes if you can get some decent ones with a bit of flavour this time of year.

So there we have it, the 1st healthy post of the year, I will do the review of The Woodspeen I previously mentioned next time, it was awesome value for money with a Michelin Star and the food was just fab.

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