Sunday, 11 March 2012

A quick update

Sorry for the lack of posts everyone. My life has changed quite a lot in the past year. I am undertaking a PGCE, training as a Secondary Design and Technology teacher. Food Technology is my major specialism, of course, with Resistant Materials as my minor. I'll explain the in-between soon, but I thought I'd post a few photographs of the major food highlights of the past year. So, here we go...

Nigella's wickedly naughty chocolate fudge cake with hand made sugar flowers and glitter

Every year, we have an August Bank Holiday barbecue and I strive to make as many puddings as possible. This time, I made ten puddings. Yes, ten! These included the above cake, cherry pie, banoffee pie, meringue ice cream parfait, key lime pie and baked orange cheesecake, courtesy of Michel Roux (the original, not Junior). I saw an online tutorial on how to make sugarpaste flowers and they are surprisingly simple. Just need a little practice. So I decided to cover this chocolate cake in them. Yummy!

Chocolate fudge Mini Countryman shaped cake

My brother has a Mini Countryman car and after watching many episodes of Ace of Cakes, (a brilliant programme by the way, watch it if you get the chance!) I decided to make a shaped cake for James' birthday. It took me two days, but I did it and am rather proud of the results. Speaking of cake, I got a cake airbrush kit for my birthday. I haven't played around with it yet, but when I get the chance, there will be some major airbrushing happening! We're having a Diamond Jubilee party, so I think I will make a fabulous cake and get spraying! Photos to come, of course...

We had a Royal Wedding party last year. I made the puddings, whilst Dad made the mains. I made, with the help of some friends, macarons, chocolate eclairs, patriotic cupcakes, strawberry cheesecake and a decorated vanilla cake. I had never a) tried macarons or b) made macarons before. I think they are things of beauty, especially when coloured in pastel hues. However, I have decided that I now do not like the taste of them. They are way too nutty in taste for me. Yuck! But they looked pretty.

Chocolate macarons, pink macarons and chocolate eclairs

One Bank Holiday weekend, I decided to make a buffet. I spent a whole day preparing dishes for it, dragging my poor boyfriend in to help me, but I think it was worth it. I don't know what compels me to set myself such tough tasks, but I do enjoy it. I made, among other delights; pesto and parmesan pull apart, savoury palmiers, poached salmon, ham and egg pie and cheese straws.

So, there you have it. A quick insight of what I have been up to. Like I said, I will update you with all the details soon, but this PGCE is jam packed and I must get back to work.

I'll be cooking up some treats soon, so stay tuned!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Goodbye for now...

So, the last day of the Advanced Course has come and gone. Sad times. I do love a Cookery course. Anyway, we had a lot of get through. We had a kind of 'grazing' day set out for us, preparing dishes and then nibbling our way through them. We managed to fit all of this in; sushi, salmon gravalax, marinating cucumbers, venison, bacon lardons, polenta cake, tomato and dried cranberry vinaigrette, chilled lime and chocolate creams, valrhona chocolate truffles, decorated them, florentines and butter fingers. Phew!

Firstly, we made sushi. Regular readers of my blog will know how to make sushi as I detailed it in the month's Diploma blog entries. I experimented with different shapes this time, making some sushi balls (see photo). We then washed and dried the home cured bacon which I was so excited to try. We rolled it out thinly between two pieces of greaseproof paper and then slow cooked it in the oven, until really crispy and caramelised. Joe then showed us how to prep the venison and portion it up.
We whipped up the praline biscuits, which we were pros at because we had done them yesterday. Then Mat and I set to work on the butter fingers. You may wonder, 'what on earth goes into a butter finger?' and the answer is simple. A shed load of butter and naughty things, but they make one tasty biscuit! We had to pipe the mixture using a star shaped nozzle, but once they were in the oven, our artistic creations turned into normal shaped blobs. This is because our mixture was not stiff enough, but then if it was any stiffer, it would have been impossible to pipe. I think the answer is to pipe the biscuits and then to freeze them for half an hour or so to keep the shape in the oven.

Joe showed us how to make polenta cakes- be careful, when boiling it, it's rather volcanic! Someone was then volunteered to grate the expensive valrhona chocolate. We mixed the chocolate shavings with softly whipped cream, a lime syrup and creme fraiche. After marinating the cucumber and making the tomato and cranberry vinaigrette, it was almost time for lunch. We prepared our slow cooked venison first. It was sealed in a hot pan and then wrapped up tightly in a cling film sausage. Then it was put into a pre-heated oven at 60C for at least two hours. Now, I know what you're thinking. Two hours? 60C? What are they playing at?! Well I shall tell you. 60C is the perfect temperature for medium rare to medium meat. The heat slowly penetrates the meat so it is perfectly cooked throughout. Two hours is long enough for the meat to cook, but not overcook. It is then melt-in-the-mouth when you do
come to eat it as it has been bathed in heat, not aggressively scorched like regular pan frying. It is similar to cooking in a water bath, which is what the water bath simulates. Plus, it doesn't need any resting time as at 60C, it is already rested. Great dish for a dinner party, folks.

Lunch time!

Makizushi rolls and nigirizushi

Mmm mmm. I do love sushi. So refreshing with the pickled ginger. I stayed well clear of the wasabi. Nasty stuff!

Whilst we were digesting, we moved back into the kitchen to finish off the salmon pre-starter.
We diced our home made salmon gravalax and mixed it with greek yoghurt, lemon juice, and dill. We rested it on a bed of vinegar and sugar marinated cucumber.

It was really delicious. Quite simple, but really yummy. It was really light as well and I loved the slight sweetness from the yoghurt, contrasting with the salmon and cucumber.

After gobbling that up, we made some chocolate truffles using the left over ganache from Day 2. We dipped the truffles in cooled melted chocolate, decorated with white chocolate and set them in the fridge. Then it was time to prepare the main course. We made the cassis glaze, finished the vinaigrette, fried the polenta cakes to warm them through and then it was time to eat again!

Salmon gravalax, cucumber salad and greek yoghurt

Slow cooked medium rare loin of venison, home cured bacon lardons, cassis
glaze, polenta cake, green beans, tomato and dried cranberry vinaigrette

Ooo this was fabulous. The venison was incredible. I will definitely cook my meat like this again. It was pink all the way through, unlike pan frying methods where it is pink in the middle and darker shades until it gets to a brown outside. I really liked the vinaigrette too. It was lovely a sharp and cut through the rich venison. The polenta cake went well too. I haven't had polenta before, but I definitely will now. A nice alternative to potato.

The day was drawing to a close. We tidied up and finished off our pre-dessert and petit fours.

The pre-dessert was lovely. Not too intense from the chocolate as the lime cur through the richness and they went really well together.

Pre-dessert of chocolate and lime creams with mint fragments and gold leaf

Petit fours: hand-made valrhona chocolate truffles, praline biscuits, chocolate dipped florentines and butter fingers

Over our coffee and chocolates, we were presented with our certificates for the Advanced Course. We all said our goodbyes and exchanged emails. It is sad to say goodbye to new friends and Ashburton, but I'm sure I'll be back soon. I hear there's a Chef's Skills Advanced Plus course...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

An offaly good day...

Sorry for the pun! Today was even busier than yesterday, if possible. We got so much done today; praline, shallot tart tatin, praline and white chocolate parfait, filleted a sea bass, poached some baby leeks, mustard vinaigrette, forty-day aged roast rib of beef, Florentines, praline biscuits, whipped truffle mash, wilted spinach, port and cardamom syrup, mystery soup challenge, balsamic veal glace, calves’ liver, sweetbreads, tempura batter and fig beignets.

The morning began with making some praline. We quickly roasted the hazelnuts in a hot oven to remove the skins as they taste bitter and made a caramel, tossing the naked hazelnuts and almonds through it. Joe and Rob showed us how to make the parfait, using the praline after it had been blitzed to a dust in the food processor. Then it was time to descale, behead, de-gut and fillet a sea bass. Did you know that it's illegal to take a sea bass out of the water if they're shorter than 30cm? It's cruel if they're any smaller as they're not old enough and haven't lived their life yet. So leave the babies alone! A good tip for descaling small fish is to put them into a plastic bag to catch all of the scales. I don't think my knife was sharp enough as when I was filleting the fish, it slipped and almost went into my hand. Lucky escape! We blanched some baby leeks and emulsified a mustard vinaigrette and by then, it was lunch time already!

Seabass carpaccio, baby gherkins, capers, poached baby leeks, micro cress and mustard vinaigrette

Lunch was surprisingly lovely. I wasn't so sure about the raw fish and mustard as I don't like mustard on its own. However, I was pleasantly surprised, I gobbled it all up! The sea bass was so fresh and sweet and the mustard vinaigrette went really well with the dish. The poached baby leeks were so delicious and intensely flavoured. All together, great.

After lunch, we started on the afternoon food. We attempted to make some florentines for petit fours tomorrow. Our florentines didn’t turn out that well, a bit holey. Our mixture seemed to be a bit wet when it went into the oven, but practice makes perfect! We also tried to make thin praline triangles to garnish the puddings. We did this by rolling then praline dust very thinly and melting the caramel in a hot oven to fuse together. Then we very carefully tried to triangles out of it. This proved more difficult than first thought because you had to get it to the right temperature as it was cooling, but not so cool that it cracked when cut. Anyway, after much frustration and re-re-heating and melting, we managed to get a few good ones for pudding presentation.

My sweet potato soup

Then it was time for the daily challenge. We could choose from various ingredients, so long as we created a…spoiler alert, the mystery is about to be revealed…sweet potato soup, all within half an hour. There was celery, a carrot, sweet potato, sweet potato, button mushrooms, shallots, garlic, cream, butter, oil, a chilli, a smoked bacon rasher and a selection of spices and herbs. I set to work to create a slightly spicy, creamy, sweet potato soup. I turned the bacon into a crispy lardons and used them as a garnish, along with some finely chopped chives. Once the thirty minutes were up, we gave a taster bowl to the judges, Rob and Joe and then swapped our soups with our partners to eat as a starter. Mat’s and my soups were both very similar and both very tasty indeed.

Mat's sweet potato soup

Afterwards, we got feedback on our soups. They said that mine was a good flavour with the salty bacon, nice, smooth texture, but needed more seasoning and more of a punch. When I was making it, I tasted, seasoned, tasted, seasoned and I thought it had enough in it. Oh well! It’s better to under season than over, as you can always add more if you wish.

Back into the kitchen to prepare the main course. Rob showed us how to take the membrane off the huge calf’s liver which he said could be used as a nice bracelet, hair band or even contraception. Lovely! Anyway, we pan fried the liver and sweetbreads, sliced the medium rare beef, warmed the potato puree, reduced the sauce, cooked the shallot tart tatin and plated up.

Well-aged roast rib of beef, calves liver, crisp sweetbread, shallot tart tatin, whipped truffle potato puree, balsamic veal glace and essence of truffle

This dish was a mix of scrumptious and not so good for me. The shallot tart tatin was mind-blowing. Sweet, sticky shallot with a puffy cup base to cradle the delicious contents. The beef was so tender, it literally just melted in my mouth. Mmm mmm. The potato was really wonderful. The truffle oil flavour was first, followed by sumptuously smooth, creamy mashed potato. I didn't, however, like the liver. I tried it with high hopes, but the after taste wasn't good. It was just too...'livery'. The sweetbread was alright. I didn’t like the texture, it was spongy and a bit like what I’d think brain would be like, but the taste was ok. If they were there, I’d eat them, but I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t have them again. Finally, it was time for pudding. We dropped the batter-coated figs into really hot corn oil (at least 200 degrees centigrade) and then plated up.

Iced praline and white chocolate parfait and tempura fig beignet with a cardamom and port syrup

The fig was beautiful, both in flavour and looks. The crispy, sweet cinnamon sugar encrusted tempura batter was wonderfully balanced against the soft, luscious fig. Simply marvellous. The syrup was intensely wonderful too. However, I didn't like the parfait. I tried a bit in hope, but the hazelnut flavour was just too strong and I really detest hazelnuts. Yuck!! It's not Ashburton's recipe's fault, in fact everyone who had it said how divine it was. I shall take their word for it. So, if you like praline and white chocolate, this is for you. I'll try the parfait as a normal white chocolate one, with no praline in it sometime soon. I'm sure it will be absolutely delicious.

Last day tomorrow. We’ll be eating our gravalax, our homemade bacon and venison. Yummy!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Nine spring rolls and half duck later...

Gosh, today was busy! We got through a lot; picked crabs, raspberry puree, butchered whole ducks, braised its legs, dill mayonnaise, savoury orange jelly, palette test, spring rolls, seafood cocktails, raspberry sorbet, creme patisserie, duck leg pomme anne, celeriac puree, glazed young carrots, jasmine tea jus, raspberry souffle and raspberry smoothie.

The first job of the morning was to pick the crabs which were meatilicious, packed full of delicious, sweet meat. Once it was all done, we had to meticulously go through the white meat to check for shell. Michelin starred restaurants could lose a star if a customer found shell in their crab dish. Bad news indeed. Then we started to butcher our ducks. Our ducks were free-range peking ducks which were quite lean and had a nice layer of fat under the skin, but not too much. Enough for tastiness, but not enough for greasiness. Perfect. We trimmed off all the excess fat and rendered it down to make an Ashburton Cookery School record of 3 litres of fat which would cost you about £20/30 to buy. All as an extra from buying whole ducks. Bargain! The duck legs were then sealed in a hot pan and had vegetables, chicken stock, star anise and herbs added to it and went into a low oven for 3 to 4 hours to braise and become delicious.

Joe then gave us our daily challenge of a palette test. We had to taste some oriental spring roll filling and re-create it from a range of ingredients, some of which were used and some were there to throw us. My work partner, Mat and I worked together and got cracking. Ours was quite spicy and I don't normally like hot food, but it was very tasty. Joe was tasting everyone's to test for the right flavours for Asian style food (sweet, sour, salty, hot). He came round to us, tasted ours and said it was delicious and didn't need anything else. High five!

By the time we'd finished all that, it was time to prepare lunch. The spring roll filling was rolled up and deep fried and we whipped up a dill mayonnaise by hand. You can do it in a machine but making it by hand makes it much lighter. Good for a few portions, but not for a big dinner party! The prawns that we blanched yesterday were chopped up and we started to layer up the crab and prawn cocktail in cocktail glasses. Cocktail and cocktail, geddit?! Brown and white crab meat, tiger prawns, diced cucumber, sun-blushed tomatoes, dill mayonnaise, caviar and edible flowers were used to make a delicious lunch.

Crab and tiger prawn cocktail, dill mayonnaise and edible flowers with hot oriental crab and bean sprout spring rolls

The cocktail was very good indeed. The dill mayonnaise was particularly tasty. The dill and lemon juice in it made it really fresh and light. I loved the spring rolls and ended up eating all nine of mine. I didn't want them to go to waste after all. They fell into my mouth! I felt completely stuffed afterwards and definitely regretted eating so many when we were preparing supper. Oof! The only off-putting thing about the crab mayonnaise was that even though Mat and I went through the white crab meat three times, we ended up with at least ten bits of shell between us. It was a little disappointing as it made the cocktail more like a chore than a pleasure. The flavours were delicious though. I just needed to go through the crab meat more times. Or get a UV light which shows up all of the shell.

Back in the kitchen for duck cooking and raspberry pureeing. Joe had already showed us how to make the celeriac puree, so we started on the pomme anna. We cut a Maris Piper potato with a tall ring cutter and then sliced it thinly. We used Maris Piper potatoes because they will absorb the flavours around it. If you used a baking potato, it wouldn't absorb any flavour as it's too waxy. We created a kind of potato cake by layering potato slices and shredded, braised duck leg until there were 5 layers and gently cooked it in clarified butter. It was then finished off in the oven. We made a savoury orange jelly, to accompany the duck, using the vegetarian alternative to gelatine, agar agar. The magic of agar agar is that it sets at room temperature and won't melt when on a hot plate. The jelly consistency was more like turkish delight than say a jelly you would have at children's parties.

Roast duck breast with layered braised duck leg Pomme Anna, celeriac puree, glazed young carrots, orange jelly, duck crackling, micro cress and jasmine tea and port jus

The dish was amazing. I think it's even topped the confit salmon of yesterday as my favourite savoury dish so far. The orange jelly was a bizarre concept, but once you get your head round the idea, it was brilliant with the duck. The star anise gave it a lovely spice and the bittersweet orange cut through the rich duck. And then the crispy duck skin. Yum! I enjoyed the duck leg pomme anna. It should be good being cooked in clarified butter! The celeriac puree was heavenly and the jus was lightly perfumed from the jasmine tea but wasn't overpowering. Everything together was fabulous. I'd definitely do it again. And will be very soon!
Joe then showed us how to make the raspberry smoothie and souffle. The trick to a good souffle is to keep calm, don't panic and don't knock the air out of it when you put it into the oven! If you brush the butter upwards in the ramekin, it will help guide the souffle upwards when in the oven. Tip time: once the souffle comes out of the oven, dust a layer of icing sugar on the top and it will form a crust to help prevent it from sinking. Collapsed souffles no more!

Trio of raspberry puddings: raspberry souffle, raspberry sorbet with mint fragments and raspberry smoothie with a vanilla foam

Overall it was an explosion of tangy raspberry, refreshing mint, cool sorbet and hot souffle. Divine indeed. The souffle was lovely, light and sweet and the smoothie was a refreshing relief against the sweetness of the other elements as it was slightly tart and the vanilla foam was delicious. The mint fragments were superb with the ice cool freshness of the tangy, sparkling raspberry sorbet. It's difficult to say which part of the pudding was my favourite, but if I had to choose, I think the sorbet was the best part. Fabulous.

Definitely a lot has happened today. Goodness me! It was the longest day so far as we've been finishing at about 5.30pm each day, but today we didn't finish until 6.10pm. All worth it though. Tomorrow, we're filleting a whole sea bass and making a chocolate parfait with tempura fig. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

And it tasted like velvet

Day 2 of the advanced course was quite busy. Today, we whipped up some home made streaky bacon, pecan shortbread, a paysanne vegetable challenge, parsnip ice cream, sweet parsnip crisps, saffron pasta, morel mushroom and chicken mousseline, chicken consommé, cooked some crabs and blanched some tiger prawns, both in preparation for tomorrow, confit salmon in a vanilla spiced oil, intense prawn sauce, shellfish chowder and marinaded some salmon to make gravalax. Phew!

One of the tasks for the morning was the paysanne vegetable challenge. “Paysanne” means pretty shapes so our task was to chop a carrot, leek, celery stick and green beans thinly, neatly and they needed to be beautiful. We had to present them in four piles of each vegetable and take them up to Rob to be judged. (There seems to be a running theme of judging so far). I chopped up my veggies and took them to Rob who gave me a 9½ out of 10. I was very pleased. I wonder what the half mark was lost for?!

We got the chicken consommé going and then we got started on the pasta as a garnish for the consommé for lunch. It was a saffron pasta dough that was bright yellow. Some saffron strands were dry toasted, boiled with some water and reduced by half to give a natural food colouring. You could experiment with pasta flavourings and colours, such as squid ink to make black pasta, spinach to make green pasta and sun dried tomatoes to make red pasta. Once it was made, we left it in the fridge to rest to relax the gluten and make sure that when rolled, it won’t shrink. Then we cracked on with the stuffing for the pasta; a minced chicken, cream and morel mushroom mousseline. It was time then to roll the pasta, cut it, fill it and shape it. Rob showed us how to make farfalle and tortellini. He taught us a trick when rolling pasta. You create a continuous loop whilst the dough sheet is in the machine and use a rolling pin to help it keep moving. Clever stuff!

Time for lunch. The paysanne veggies were blanched and refreshed, ready for the soup and the pasta only took a minute to two minutes to cook through and then we laid the veg, pasta parcels and some chopped chives in a bowl and ladelled the lovely clear broth on top. Rob offered us a drizzle of truffle oil on top. Some chefs would laugh at you putting oil on top of a consommé as you've just spent a couple of hours getting the grease out of a soup and then you put some back into it. However, it was a flavoured oil and more of a garnish than accidental grease left in it. So I put some in and it not only tasted great, but added some sparkling, golden jewels to the top of the soup.

Chicken consommé with paysanne vegetables, morel and chicken mousseline stuffed farfalle and tortellini pasta and a drizzling of truffle oil

In the afternoon we got on with the pecan shortbread. I'm allergic to peanuts, not pecans, but I try to stay clear of all nuts, just in case. Luckily for me, there was another person in the group who was allergic to nuts, so we paired up and made our plain shortbread biscuits, substituting the pecans for the same weight of flour. Rob had told us all that the biscuits may spread slightly when cooked, so when they come out of the oven it was advisable to re-cut the biscuits so they look refined and neat. Unfortunately for our biscuits, disaster struck. We’re not sure why, but our biscuits spread massively and ended up with a honeycomb texture and were so delicate and crumbly. They were nice, but a bit disappointing that they didn’t work. Anyway, I managed to get a few successful ones for my pudding presentation. I guess the recipe relies on the nuts to keep the biscuit together. Oh well, you learn from experience.

We then prepared for the salmon and chowder dish in a Heston Blumenthal style moment. The spiced vanilla oil had to be heated to exactly 56 degrees centigrade, then the salmon was submerged in the liquid, brought back up to 56 degrees, turned off and left for 25 minutes to confit. This would cook it enough for consumption but also made it a wonderful texture and go almost translucent. Whilst the salmon rested, we put together the chowder using shallots, garlic, butter, cream, white wine, noilly prat, mussels, clams, prawn liquor, pancetta, sweet potato, chervil, lemon juice and seasoning.

Slow cooked ‘salmon pave’ in spiced vanilla oil and scallop coral powder with a chowder of clams, mussels, pancetta, sweet potato, shallots and garlic in a shellfish and chervil emulsion

The salmon was seriously, scrumptiously divine. The best salmon I've ever had. It was so velvety in texture and lightly spiced from the vanilla oil. You wouldn’t think that vanilla would go with fish, but no no my friend, you are wrong. They are best buddies. Why not give it a go yourself? Not only was the fish fabulous, but everything else in the dish was superb. The bright red coral powder was the epitome of scallop and the chowder was amazing. The prawn liquor made from the prawn shells really lifted the sauce and I liked the addition of the pancetta. If you like shellfish, I recommend this dish. It’s simply sublime. After this flavour sensation, it was back into the kitchen for pudding construction, followed by demolition.

We had already made the parsnip ice cream from a custard base and pureed parnsip earlier in the day. We built up the pudding, starting with the quenelle of chocolate ganache and sprinkled it with a little salt and gold leaf. To stop the biscuits from sliding around the plate, we used some creme fraiche, but you could use clotted cream. Rob told us that some restaurants even use a tiny bit of mashed potato. Not so sure on that one. Parsnip ice cream is radical enough for me, let alone mash!

Quenelle of bitter chocolate ganache on a shortbread biscuit, drizzled with white chocolate, maldon sea salt, edible gold leaf, parsnip ice cream and parsnip crisps

The taste of the pudding was wonderful. Firstly you get a hit of the intense salt, which then led into the smooth, velvety, dark chocolate ganache, the crunch of the shortbread and parsnip crsip, the sweetness and creaminess of the parsnip ice cream and then back to the salt. It was really good. The gold leaf didn’t really taste of much. I think it was more there for wow factor. It would be better of course with a solid biscuit rather than a honeycomb one, but I loved how the natural sweetness of the parsnip was used. The ganache was to die for too, definitely worth the £40 per kilo chocolate. It was bittersweet, but not harsh like cheaper dark chocolates can be and so so smooth it was unbelievable. Perfect for truffles.

And that was it for day 2 of the advanced course. Almost half way through, boo! But tomorrow promises delights of a trio of raspberry puddings and ‘pomme anna’ using slices of potato and braised duck leg. Come back tomorrow for delicious details.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Oh hello Ashburton Cookery School. Nice to see you again.

So, it's third time around for me at Ashburton. I feel that we have a long-term happy relationship. This time I'm doing the Advanced 5 Day Course. The 'natural' progression from the Diploma course.

I got there early (I know, surprising for me....haha so very funny) and we were briefed by chef tutor Joe. He outlined the week ahead, which sounds jam-packed full of treats and then we were straight into the Dartmoor Kitchen in the new ACS building by the A38. I was pleased with this as although I like the Garden Kitchen which I did the Diploma in, the new kitchens have funky gadgets to play with such as inductions and fancy hi-tech ovens that have settings like '3D Hot Air', which makes sure each oven shelf is the same temperature throughout the oven. Not that normal ovens and gas hobs aren't any good...

Anyway, the first order of the day was a scrambled egg challenge. We had to use two eggs and anything else we wanted out of butter, milk, double cream, salt and pepper. Once it was made we took it up to the MasterChef judges, Joe and Rob. I normally do alright with scrambled eggs, so I wasn't particularly worried. I melted my butter in a saucepan and then added my whisked eggs. I don't use cream at home as it's unnecessary calories, but I wanted it to taste heavenly, so in it went. However, in my naivety, I put it in once the egg was starting to scramble which immediately smoothed out the mixture and I started to panic. I thought it was going to turn into some sort of savoury custard! But luckily after a while on the heat it started to scramble. My good friends salt and pep went in and I took it up to Rob for tasting. He said the consistency was good, but it was under seasoned, but a good try. Damn!! At least it wasn't over seasoned. You can always add more but you can't take away! We were allowed to eat it if we wished and then we moved onto the next challenge. I tried mine, after adding a bit more seasoning and oh my good golly, cream certainly makes things taste divine! Scrambled eggs with cream are definitely the way forward. Maybe not, health-wise, but taste-wise mmm mmm!

The next challenge was to chop and onion and a shallot as finely as possible. Fact fans rejoice, because here's one coming up! Chopping onions as fine as possible is good for many reasons it increases the surface area, making them sweat and cook faster, bringing out the onions' natural sugars and makes them nicer to eat. No one wants to chop on a huge bit of onion! The onions didn't like being chopped and retaliated by bringing tears to my eyes. Every time! We then got started on lunch which was pan fried scallops with a lentil and coriander sauce. We opened the scallops, cleaned up the meat and saved the roe for another dish tomorrow. The corals were dried out in a low oven which will then be blitzed into a dust and sprinkled over some salmon. Can't wait! The sauce to go with the scallops was then made from brown lentils, onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, cream, butter, fish stock and cardamom pods which is where the spice in the sauce comes from. By the time we'd done all of that it was time to eat! We pan fried the scallops in some clarified butter and then finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice. We were told not to squeeze in the juice until the last moment and off the heat or there may be a bit of a flame. I added my juice as I was just taking the pan off the heat, but in true Hannah style, it caught a bit of the ring flame and the next thing I knew, the pan whooshed up in a massive fire! Gave me a bit of a shock to say the least. Whoops!

Sauteed scallops with a spicy lentil and coriander sauce with creme fraiche, caviar and edible flowers

Lunch was absolutely delicious. Definitely worth almost singing my eyebrows! The scallops were wonderful and the lentils were amazing! The flavours were so fresh and light. I also loved the caviar. They were like little pods which released a flavour sensation that danced on your palate when popped. Yummy.

After lunch, it was time to crack on with the evening food. We made a basil foam and a basil oil to go with the main course of steamed stuffed chicken roulade. The basil oil was really simple to make. Basically, you just heat olive oil with finely chopped shallot, garlic and basil and leave it to infuse for half an hour, then strain and blitz with some blanched basil leaves. The result is a bright green oil that looks and tastes fantastic. We also made a basil foam to drizzle over the finished dish that looks like snow but tastes of fresh basil.

For the pudding, we made a yogurt 'crackle' ice cream which was made from greek yogurt, honey and popping candy to add an element of fun and surprise to pudding. Then we made some pine nut and black pepper tuilles. Joe told us to put quite a bit of pepper in them as it should have a strong flavour in the biscuits.

Time to return to it to the main course. We butterflied a chicken breast and then tenderised it with a rolling pin. We added some skinned, shredded sweet red pepper and blanched leafy greens and then rolled up into a sausage and wrapped it in cling film, ready to be steamed. Whilst the chicken roulade was steaming, we prepared the aubergine puree. It was simply aubergine roasted with thyme, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic and then blitzed to a puree. I don't normally like aubergine, but it was really tasty. We also made vegetable spaghetti out of a carrot and courgette. Sounds complicated, but it's simply very fine thin strips of the vegetables. Then it was time to plate up. Unfortunately, the foam melted on the hot food, so you can't really see it in the photograph, but I can assure you that it was there and was lovely and fresh.

Local chicken breast stuffed with roasted red pepper and local greens, served with spaghetti vegetables, aubergine puree, basil oil and a basil foam

The chicken was so moist and the red pepper brought a delicious sweetness to the overall flavour. The basil oil was amazing too and the vegetable spaghetti was brilliant. I plan to experiment with this notion of vegetable spaghetti and create some kind of vegetarian spag bol. Watch this space! The dish was deliciously fresh and light and relatively healthy. Probably the healthiest thing we'll eat all week!

Griddled pineapple, yogurt 'crackle' ice cream, black pepper and pine nut tuille, pineapple crisp, eight year aged balsamic and toasted pine nuts

Pudding was fabulous. I wouldn't have ordered it if I saw it on the menu at a restaurant as I don't like spicy things such as the tuilles and I wouldn't have thought that the balsamic vinegar would go with it, however, it was totally scrumptious! It's hard to see, but there's a tuille spiral balancing on the hole in the pineapple crisp. The griddle pineapple was so juicy and the ice cream was deliciously creamy, finishing with the rich balsamic and spice of the pepper biscuit. I'd definitely make it again. It's not that bad for you. There's one of your 5 a day in there!

And that brings us to the end of the first day. One down, four to go. What a yummy start to the week. I shall leave you with a taste of what's to come tomorrow. Confit salmon and 75% cocoa solids chocolate that costs £40 a kilo. Goodnight.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Happy 2011!

Oh wait, it's a bit late for that, as it's the 16th of January! Anyway, I haven't posted since October and let you know what I've been up to, so I want to start by wishing you all well and I hope that you had a fabulous Christmas and that 2011 will be marvellous.

So, let me get you updated. The first bit of news I must tell you is that I've booked yet another Ashburton Cookery School course. They were having a 10% off sale and I decided to do the next course up, the 5 day 'Advanced Cookery' course. I've always thought I was going to do it, so I took advantage of the discount and now I'm looking forward to the 28th of February to start it. Only six weeks tomorrow!

Since I last posted, I've made quite a few delicious delights. It will be a long read, so make yourself comfortable, maybe get some Christmas chocolates, if you have any left or something tasty to snack on and enjoy. It's how I like to write my blog. Of course. In fact, I find that teaming most daily activities with eating chocolate makes everything much better. Except for my waistline!

The first delicious delight was a special birthday cake. This didn't turn out too well aesthetically, but it was tasty! It was my friend Briony's 23rd birthday and she had a Harry Potter party. I went as the mad Professor Trelawney and we all attempted to make The Hogwarts Castle in cake form. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought! I'd never made sugarpaste before, made from egg white, a lot of icing sugar and liquid glucose, and it was difficult to shape. Rather difficult in fact, as it was quite warm in the kitchen! Especially the dragon. I wanted to make it a scary dragon, with blue-purple open wings and a menacing face, but it ended up looking rather happy to be on the cake. Practice makes perfect though! But eventually, we managed a castle with a chocolate matchstick and chocolate finger roof, complete with Hagrid's hut, Hedwig and fire-breathing dragon, plus some peppermint sugarpaste trees, including the whomping willow.

In November, my Dad had a dinner party for some of his friends and asked me to help out by making the bread to go with the starter and the pudding. I made a wholemeal loaf and white dinner rolls, some with seeds, some without. For pudding, I made a chocolate orange mousse shot surprise, sticky toffee pudding and individual pavlova with raspberry, pear, pineapple and passionfruit, with a raspberry coulis. I made each plate personal by piping everyone's names onto it. I also added some, I'm ashamed to say, store-bought vanilla ice cream. I didn't have time to make the ice cream as everything else took me the whole day. But it was a good quality one!

Now we jump straight to Christmas. Throughout December, I begged my Dad to let me cook Christmas dinner. I'm always keen on improving and expanding my skills/cooking repertoire and I've never done a full Christmas dinner before. Unfortunately, Dad was adamant that he wanted to do it. Boo! Maybe next year...I did manage to help with some of it though- I made the braised red cabbage, stuffing and pigs in blankets.

In hindsight, it's a good thing that Dad did Christmas dinner as I had plenty of other things to do, which I'll get to a bit later. I also had been ill from the weekend before Christmas, so I was still recovering from that and gave myself a lot of kitchen work, which didn't help. I don't know what I had. I think it was some kind of virus, but I ended up fainting at one point and smacking my head on the hard, wooden floor whilst I was on a short break at Center Parcs and I spent most of it inside the villa. Rubbish!

So, even though Dad was doing the main event, he let me cook Christmas Eve's dinner which, as you can see, was Gary the Goose. I'd never cooked goose before and it turned out pretty well. I found a recipe on (I'm plugging a lot of websites today, aren't I?!) which served the goose with a cider gravy. We had it with the classic low calorie and healthy goose fat potatoes and butternut squash. It was so delicious, especially the gravy. Yum yum yum! I don't particularly like Christmas pudding, so I made an alternative of clementine and chocolate yule log. It was quite rich but lovely. I especially liked the addition of the clementine, it took the edge off the heaviness of the chocolate and cream.

Clementine and Chocolate Yule Log.

The reason I'm glad Dad did Christmas dinner was because he also gave me the task of cooking lunch on Boxing Day when my relatives came over to my house for what we call our second Christmas. Considering that all together, there were 16 of us, it was no easy task! I chose to do Nigella Lawson's cola ham which is cooked in full fat coca-cola for a few hours, then glazed in the oven for ten minutes with a mixture of cloves, mustard powder and black treacle (it is Christmas, after all). I also decided to make my Christmas presents for my extended family, just to add to the mayhem I was causing in the kitchen!

I made each couple, of which there were four, a Christmas hamper each with handmade foodie goodies. As well as making the edible treats, I designed the labels. I guess you could call it a prototype of what I hopefully will do in the future, I'd love to combine my two main passions, cookery and design.

I made seven different delights: festive shaped lemon and chocolate shortbread, white chocolate and Baileys fudge (pictured on the left) caramelised red onion marmalade, spiced pear and cranberry relish, assorted handmade chocolate truffles (pictured on the right) spiced beetroot and orange chutney and sea-salted caramels. I found some lovely little jars to put my chutney/preserve-y things in from the and topped them off with some light blue polka dot lids which looked fabulous. I put the biscuits into a kilner jar and chose to package the rest of the gifts in some little cellophane bags with strips of ribbon tied into the labels.

I designed the labels in a bold style and used different shades of grey for each word to express which shade they would be if they were only one colour. For example, (here's my nerdy inner graphic designer coming out!) I thought that the word 'chocolate' would be a medium to dark grey because I mainly used milk chocolate which is quite dark in colour in reality, compared with the word 'lemon' which I felt needed to be a light to medium grey to express the refreshing tangy flavour of a lemon, but not too light a grey as it's a flavour that can pack a punch. Back to the real world and away from shades of grey, (sorry!) I designed two labels- the top label told of the product and the bottom of descriptive suggestions of perfect accompaniments/how to eat them/anecdotes in a friendly, informal tone of voice.

I really wanted to bundle them all up into a nice basket, but my quest for the perfect shallow basket throughout December, hindered by the heavy snowfall which cuts my house off from civilisation and basket shopping was unsuccessful. So I used some free tall tins my Mum had won from previous cat shows (yes, there is such a thing) and kindly gave me. Here's what it all looked like.

Christmas was rather good this year, even though I spent most of it in the kitchen! I got some lovely cookery related presents, including the love bakery cookbook, a digital measuring spoon, various shapes of cookie cutter, cake stands, a pasta machine and a WAFFLE IRON!!!! I've wanted one for ages and ages. I just have a thing about waffles. A strange but delicious obsession! So far, I've made plain waffles with cheese and ham on top and blueberry and cinnamon waffles (pictured on the right), topped with ice cream and maple syrup. Wonderful waffles. I would make more, but my waffle iron makes four at a time (you can't make single ones) so I have to wait for more than one waffle request which is from myself. My next waffle plan is to make chocolate brownie ones. Heart attack, here I will be so worth it!

For New Year's Eve, we had some family friends visit us and we had a sophisticated dinner party. Dad made a crab and cheese souffle and I made stuffed breast of lamb for the main course. I also made two puddings, a Heston Blumenthal Waitrose recipe of spiced popping candy chocolate tart and a meringue roulade. The roulade was delicious and the tart was alright, but I didn't have the right sized cake ring for it and it didn't turn out particularly well. It tasted alright, but I don't think I'd make it again. But you have to experiment and try these things, eh!

I also had my traditional annual get together of some of my friends from Junior School. Unfortunately, one of them couldn't make it due to illness, but the rest of us still had a good time. I planned a three course dinner party and greeted Rosie and Briony with a cupcake tree. Using my new love bakery cupcake recipe book, I made 23 cupcakes for my new wire cupcake stand which consisted of red velvet cupcakes and cosmopolitan 'cuptails' (basically a cupcake version of the cocktail). I'd never made either before, but both were delicious. I preferred the cuptails as they had a surprise filling of cranberry jam. I'd never tried red velvet cake before and it was ok, but I'm not a big fan of cream cheese frosting. I much prefer buttercream.

Red velvet cupcakes pre-oven.

For the actual dinner, I made a smoked salmon pate served in mini kilner jars, caramelised red onion marmalade and salad with homemade dill and chive wholemeal bread. For the main course, I made cider braised crispy pork belly with mustard cabbage, apple mash, celeriac puree and broccoli and salmon en croute with the same veg for the veggies.

Pudding trio- lemon posset, sticky toffee pudding and hot lemon souffle pudding with a
painted line of crushed sherbet lemon sweets

Pudding was as described above. Overall, not blowing my own trumpet, I thought it went well and was delicious. I had never had pork belly before and it was wonderful. I loved the contrast between the soft meat and crispy skin on top. Mmm mmm mmm! Pudding was my favourite though, as it always is! I tried a different sticky toffee pudding recipe that Masterchef judge, Greg Wallace gives in this month's Good Food magazine, after his extensive sticky toffee research. It's much lighter than other recipes I've tried and as delicious as it was, I think I prefer the heavier version. I liked the relief of the richness of the toffee sauce that the lemon puddings on the plate provided as well.
And that concludes an essay of a blog post! A great foodie 2010 and I'm looking forward to an even better 2011. No news on the job front yet. I'm looking, but hopefully something will arise. I'll tell you a story now. The author of the love bakery cookbook started off by making a batch of 200 cupcakes for her children's school Halloween fair. Then she was inundated with orders from other mums for cakes for their children's parties, then local shops and delis. Now she's running the successful Love Bakery cake shop in London. She has my life! Well, my (fingers crossed) eventual life...I'd love to have a sweet cake shop/cafe type shop, selling beautiful cakes, afternoon teas, a large bookcase with jams, preserves, chutneys and jellies with bunting hanging from the welcoming Farrow & Ball yellow walls. Maybe some lunches too. If she started small with a school fair, what's stopping me from having a similar experience? I know that my future definitely includes cooking and designing. Let's hope that it's something wonderful. Also, one of my new year's resolutions is to post more blogs. So please keep checking back to see what I've been making!

One last thing. This week on Channel 4, the big four of Channel 4, Heston, Hugh, Jamie and Gordon have been promoting the 'Big Fish Fight'. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been the main instigator of the campaign to shake up the way we buy fish. The campaign is to raise awareness of diminishing fish stocks and to get us to eat some of the lesser known, and more importantly, sustainable fish, such as dab, herring and coley. The 'big three' fish that we all love to eat are cod, salmon and tuna. Because of this, these fish stocks are rapidly declining. Please try and change this by not buying your favourite fish and try something new. Part of Hugh's campaign is to get the 'mackerel bap' onto your chippie's menu. Try it instead of your usual cod and chips. Mackerel is both sustainable and delicious. Also because of stupid EU quota laws, up to half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead as 'discard'. Fishermen are simply not allowed to bring back certain fish which is perfectly good and delicious. Ridiculous!!! So please, even if you don't eat fish very often, don't like it at all, but care about the fact that millions of fish are dying pointlessly and want to make a difference, please sign this petition and get everyone you know to do so. Go to and join the other half a million people who care. Thank you. As Jamie says, 'there will be plenty of fish in the sea, so long as you choose the right ones'.