Sunday, 11 March 2012
Friday, 4 March 2011
Thursday, 3 March 2011
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
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.
Tuesday, 1 March 2011
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.