Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Saturday, 17 December 2011

Week 23: How much butter is in that?

This is a fun week working with speciality breads and enriched yeast products.  It is no surprise that the enriched part generally means eggs and/or tons of butter, and (all together now) "butter is fat and fat = flavour", the oft repeated mantra of our tutors. 

You will recall my despair in week 16: Sure to rise when I bemoaned my lack of bread making skills, but went on to bake successful products in class.  This week is the same -  I think it is safe to say yeast and I have formed an alliance.  At least we have in the Weltec kitchen: whether it translates to home is another matter.

Monday we start with wholemeal bread rolls and bagels, and it's all a slippery butter slick from there. 

Not much else gets the Heart Foundation tick this week.  We spend a good part of the lesson also making the paste for croissants and Danish pastries, and doing the folding work which makes the layers - lamination in the culinary world - of pastry.  If you have ever wondered just how much butter goes into these products I am now in a position to tell you.  Heaps.  By weight, the recipe for croissants has 450 grams of flour to 225 grams of butter. Danish pastries?  Don't ask.  OK then, I'll tell you.  225 grams of flour and 200 grams of butter. You may as well slap it directly onto your hips!
Layer of butter on croissant pastry

In both cases the slab of butter is laid onto the rolled out dough (see picture), and then folded in and rolled again.  Fold and roll three times, giving a half turn of the dough block each time.  This means you are distributing the fat and adding layers.  You can see the process on any number of you tube videos if you want to know the details.  When the dough cooks, the fat melts and creates steam which puffs up the dough.  The dough then cooks in place and the gap that is the flaky layer is created.   Again, cooking as magic!

The pastries for the croissants and danishes we let prove in the fridge overnight and roll out and bake the next day. I really enjoy shaping and making them all and they turn out well. When I show them to some of you the comment is unfailingly "they look like bought ones form the shop!"  I'm not sure if I should be pleased with the comment or affronted by the surprise in your voice! Of course they are just like bought ones - only they taste better!  The hunter gatherer is well pleased this week. Having missed out on the doughnuts (week 16: Sure to rise) he is happy when the cabin crew in from Dubai (son and girlfriend) pause in Wellington and can deliver fresh pastries to Marlborough.

Dough, dough and more dough. Chelsea buns, brioche loaves, cornbread, focaccia, a wholegrain loaf (Heart Foundation tick on that one) and sourdough.  There is no solace for the gluten intolerant in this world. 

Dough performs its own special magic. To wit, brioche.
You start with a relatively straightforward sweetened yeast dough, and then add LOTS of butter. The dough is soooo sticky you are severely tempted to add flour. But you mustn't! You just keep kneading with your fingertips (so as not to overheat the dough), knead, knead, knead and  - nek minnit - (yes, I am in touch with popular culture) it comes together into this smooth,silky and glossy dough. Then shape, prove again and bake into a lovely buttery yummy thing, which, I make into a dessert for hunter gatherer and the aforementioned cabin crew. Make french toast with the brioche (fry in butter - why the hell not?) and serve with poached rhubarb and yoghurt.
Assessment sees us make and present Wholemeal rolls - 3 different shapes, glazed Chelsea buns and a whole Brioche loaf (as opposed to individual rolls).  I gain another Distinction proving I must have shrugged off my yeast product jinx!

And while we are on the subject of Distinction, I also receive my results from the Certificate exam I did in week 18. Yes, I passed with Distinction which, while they don't tell you your mark, I am informed that means over 90%. All in all, a good week to break up for the holidays.

Back at school the week commencing January 16th.  So until then, compliments of the season to you and yours and I look forward to blogging in 2012.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Week 22: bunked off school

Sorry everyone - nothing much to report.  I was away for various reasons most of the week and only went to school on Wednesday, when we made kickass moussaka, very tasty spicy pumpkin empanadas, a fairly mundane bean salad and a run of the mill roast vegetable salad.

That's all the adjectives this week!

And what did you think of the consommé last week? I am still waiting for the oohs and aahs.

Stand by for exciting breads and yeast enriched goods coming up in this, our last week before we break for Christmas - croissants, danish pastries, brioche and more......

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Week 21: Consommé, purée, velouté, soup of the day

You guessed it - soup! More soup than you can shake a ladle at in fact.
Ha! I hear you say, who can't make soup?  But there is so much more to a good soup than chucking stuff in a pot then giving it a whizz in the food processor and calling it done. 

Cast your mind back to Week 3: Hot stock and several smokin' sauces.  Recall the lengthy process associated with making a good stock and start there for your soup.  None of your Campbell's tetrapak or hairy Pierre Marco White tear tab stock pot shortcuts - unless you are prepared to accept a less flavoursome result.  God knows how many litres of stock we use this week as we traverse the landscape that is soup: clear, unthickened, thickened, thickened by pureeing, by using a roux, adding liaisons or cream - the varieties are endless. We make:
  • Chicken Consommé Célestine
  • Tomato Soup - with no tomatoes. Yes, that does bear explanation, we use tomato purée
  • Red Lentil Purée
  • Mediterranean Pumpkin and Smoked Paprika Soup
  • Minestrone Genovese
  • French Onion Soup
  • Chicken Velouté Soup
  • Vichyssoise
The Consommé warrants considerable space.  It is essentially a clarified stock - the chicken explains the base of the stock and Célestine describes the garnish and style of presentation.  As you can imagine, there are very many permutations and combinations.  Warning - I'm now going to explain in some detail how to make a consommé, so skip over this part if you only read this blog for the class gossip - which apparently many of you do!

For our chicken consommé we squish (that is the technical term) together a mixture of chicken mince, egg whites and a mirepoix of celery, leek and carrot cut into brunoise (see week 2!) We add it to our cold stock, together with a bouquet garni and a brulée onion.  To create a brulée onion, cut it in half through the diameter and put the cut side down in a dry frypan and cook it until it is well charred, but not burnt.  I know  -  you are somewhat nonplussed at this stage aren't you?  What is the reason for all this bizarre kitchen behaviour to make a clear soup? - mince, eggs, burnt onion - it beggars belief.  However I assure you this is standard culinary procedure and there is a reason for everything.  Read on.

Raft starting to form
The key to making a high quality consommé is simmering - an act which, in combination with frequent gentle stirring to keep solids off the bottom of the pot, brings impurities to the surface.  Eventually the proteins in the egg and meat coagulate and combine with the mirepoix to make a solidish layer - this is known as the 'raft'.  This raft is a filtering system, and as the stock gently bubbles through the raft, impurities are caught while the raft simultaneously intensifies the flavour of the consommé.  As it is all about clarification, you must not disturb or break the raft or you end up with cloudy consommé. We simmer for over an hour before VERY CAREFULLY using a ladle to extract the consommé from under the raft, then pass it through muslin before skimming any visible fat from the surface. The brulée onion has contributed a depth of colour to the liquid and so now our consommé is a very clear, dark amber coloured liquid, with an intense chicken flavour.

During the week I achieve a perfect result. So what happens during assessment?  You know exactly what happens.  Well, you don't so I'm going to tell you.  Busy with something else, I fail to stir the consommé in the early stages and end up with  a very cloudy result.  This is not good, but it is what we used to call in the consulting business, a "teachable moment".  This is what I love about cooking - there is so often success to be wrenched from the jaws of disaster.  I take the cloudy consomme, cool it right down to cold, whip 3 more egg whites through it, bring it back to the boil then gently simmer til the egg whites do their thing. The following photos show the process.  

1. egg whites beaten into cloudy consomme

2. Egg white raft starting to form

3. Ladling off clear consomme

4. Filtering through coffee filter, muslin and chinois

5. Ta -dah! Perfectly clear Chicken Consommé Célestine

 How fabulous is that!  It seriously is magic or at the very least, chemistry.

No, those aren't snakes - they are thinly cut julienne of herbed crepe - that's the Célestine part.

This week the Wrighthaus has been on the receiving end of a variety of soups - the young missus has a broken foot, the young mister is flat out at their busy café,  and GG has come home from her glamorous expat life to run round after the kids while broken foot girl recovers.  Fortunately they all like soup!

For assessment this week we also present the Red Lentil Purée garnished with croutons, and Chicken Velouté garnished with poached chicken. This latter is also known as "Holy shit! That chicken soup is delicious"  by broken foot girl.

So that's probably enough about soup.  I know I've had enough to last me a while - it's a shame the timing of this lesson doesn't fall in winter!

Not much class goss this week.  Our core class, Novotel, is down to 11 by my count.  I think the roll call on day one was 17, two never turned up at all, and we've lost four.  Jiggly seems to have dropped out as I indicated in an earlier post, though who knows. He is either awaiting sentencing or didn't get sent down as a couple of people said they have seen him around the Hutt. Dumber has definitely dropped out and is cooking (!??) in a pub in Stokes Valley - say no more.   Our tutor Trevor, who is part time, has the summer off so over the next weeks we have a variety of tutors which, I think, will be a good thing as we see different styles and standards.

On assessment day I share the bench with Dumb - who is quite sweet really, and becoming not-so-dumb as time moves on and he is free of the influence of Dumber - and the donut eater from Kenya.  At the end of class I have no dishes as I have been washing up and cleaning as I go - just like my mother taught me. Here is a picture of the bench MORE THAN HALF WAY through their clean up. Where were their mothers????

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Weeks 19 & 20: Menu planning & more nutrition

Two blogs for the price of one again, as we have had two, 2 day theory weeks following our fun in the restaurant and kitchen service.

Looking at, talking about and working on menus - what could be better, other than eating the food?  Along with menu planning and development we also look at kitchen design.  So what are the key points you need to know?  Everything that makes good business sense, but as always, good sense is not always shown in business!

It should come as no surprise that when planning the menu it is not just what the chef wants to cook, but what customers want to eat. Really? Tell Heston Blumenthal that.  Snail porridge anyone?

For the rest of us mortals, start with some analyses: size and type of establishment, kitchen capability in terms of equipment and size, the customer profile, staff capability, availability of supplies, seasonality, and so it goes on.  It makes you think of all the times you walk down a street full of cafes, bars and restaurants and one is full to overflowing and right next door there's one that's empty.  Why?  Probably several things, for as you start to work through the variables the range of of what can be "got wrong'  becomes quite broad.  Too much of what the owner/chef wants and not what the customer wants is likely to be high on the list.  Unless you are Heston.  Then maybe it's because one of your experiments blew up the kitchen and it's closed for repairs.....

I don't know about you but I love reading menus - especially if I am about to order from one.  A well written menu piques your appetite by describing the dish in such a way that  you know what is in the dish, how it's cooked and how it is served.  Yes I know that seems obvious, but if you read a description that raises more questions than it answers you become annoyed.  Your annoyance is exacerbated when you ask the waitstaff and they don't know either.

There are a myriad of culinary terms that just do not form part of the lexicon of most diners.  
Little test for you.  How many of the following menu terms are you familiar with?
  • tomato concasse
  • fondant potato
  • darne of salmon
  • chicken veloute
  • onion brunoise

Actually it is a test of how much you have remembered from reading this blog as at one time of another I have mentioned all of these!

It is also fun designing the kitchen. If you go to http://www.gliffy.com/ you can get a 30 day free trial of design software. It is very cool and really useful if you are planning on building or remodelling - which I am not.  However I use it for my kitchen design and have a play with making unsuitable icons suitable. For example, turning a table and 4 chairs into a fire extinguisher - it's like magic! Just shrink to an unrecognisable size and add a label and anything is possible.

I have spent an INORDINATE amount of time on my two assignments over the last week because they have been such fun.
Our two days of nutrition are partly recap from the last sessions a few weeks ago, and partly covering food labelling, additives, E numbers and other not-very-exciting but important information.  We complete a breakdown analysis of what constitutes an Uncle Ben's meat pie (a whole 18% meat in case you're wondering, along with a small truckload of fat - saturated of course - and a great many more ingredients that you do not really want in your diet). I think our tutor was hoping to get some cut through into the eating habits of my classmates - vain hope.  When we break for morning tea, how many choose a piece of fruit or other healthy option?  None, but the fries and pies taking a beating.  So folks, if the message doesn't get through to those who are the chefs of the future, what hope for the general population.

Eat this!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Week 18: We are now Diploma students

Last week was the final week of the Certificate in Food Preparation and this week heralds the commencement of the Diploma of Culinary Art.  Not that anyone really notices the transition.  The main exams are at the end of the overall programme, however I sit my Certificate exam on Monday as I am likely to be overseas next June when the exams are held - it's complicated - the course finishes in April but English timetable, English rules.  Anyway, the exam is 100 multi choice questions, most of which are as straightforward as you'd expect.  Two and a half hours are permitted (!) and I finish in 30 mins, but no-one is allowed to leave the room until an hour has passed. Rules, rules, rules.

While I am sitting my exam my Novotel buddies are being instructed in the fine art of service, or perhaps that should be Service. Two half days of instruction and practising polishing cutlery, setting the table, serving and clearing, taking orders and pouring wine.  The exam doesn't mean I escape Monday's lesson, and I spend the afternoon with the Ibis group and then Tuesday back with my homies.
Questions / comments of classmates over this time:

  • Why are there so many knives and forks?
  • How will they (customers) know which ones to use?
  • I'd rather be in the kitchen.
  • I'm not covering my tats.
  • Why do we have to do this?

Our settings are like this but also have an entree knife, no name plate,  and two fewer glasses  (and we fold our napkins in a fancier way) 

So that is the first two days of the week. Wednesday, half of us cook dinner service and the other half serve in the restaurant - on Thursday we switch.  I cook Wednesday and serve Thursday.  The hunter gatherer books a table for six and is accompanied by the doctor, the civil servant and the mammographer, and the banker and the accountant.  Ponytail guy's partner, the station mistress, comes alone so joins the table which Ponytail serves.  We have a fairly full restaurant and although down one in the kitchen and two in the restaurant, there are no disasters so consider the night a success. My friends are fulsome in their praise of the food and service - it is nice they are so supportive.
Thursday, the restaurant is at capacity (40) plus a few and the kitchen is down two - more on that later. The kitchen crew do an amazing job and our Thursday tutor (who also does our assessments) runs things smoothly and sends out gorgeous looking food. We are so busy both nights I fail to take photos.  
So where were the missing persons?  Dumber didn't turn up all week.  Jiggly came Monday and hasn't been seen since.  When I spoke to him that day he said he was "in a power of shit" and was likely to be up on an assault charge from the weekend's activities.  There has been a bit of a backward slide for a few weeks now and old "friends" have been visiting from out of town.  I think he finds it hard to stay on track when faced with these sorts of people and it looks like evil has triumphed over efforts to reform - pretty sure he is back on hard core drugs.  It will be interesting to see if he turns up this next week.  I have another revelatory moment this week when chatting to one of the Ibis guys. I ask what kept him this morning as he'd arrived a bit late. He tells me he had to get his jewellery adjusted - this turns out to be an ankle bracelet and it looks like this                              
 not this                

He has a curfew between 10pm and 7am to allow him to come to class.  I tell you, I am living in another world.

After last week's posting I was soundly told off for what was deemed to be a denigration of the Prawn Cocktail as "fuddy duddy".   I am reliably informed they have been given a modern twist in some dining establishments. I am prepared to wax lyrical on the new style Prawn Cocktail as soon as I see and eat one, as I do love prawns.  Google has LOTS of images, but I like this one the best!  I would hazard a guess that it is from an American menu.
Was this what you had in mind, gentle reader?


Menu planning coming up.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Week 17: Stuffed eggs are making a comeback - apparently

This week we make hors d'oeuvres and "cold larder" food including various sandwiches and salads.  We start with tomato chutney, raspberry jam, pesto, preserved lemons and other pantry bit and pieces, but by Tuesday I worry that I have fallen through a time-delayed black hole .... seriously, when did you last eat a Prawn Cocktail? Salmon Mayonnaise? Stuffed Egg? 

I think the last time I saw a Stuffed Egg was at a funeral in 1976. 

However I am reliably informed they are making a comeback:  indeed, the lastest issue of Life and Leisure has Stuffed Spanish Eggs as part of a tapas feature.  I would suggest they are a more upswept version with the addition of some Spanish flavours, whereas ours are the plain English variety with butter and mayo mixed with the yolk to make the filling - none of your foreign muck!

When it comes to Prawn Cocktails my approved version is that made by the hunter gatherer at Christmas.  It involves tomato juice, prawns or shrimps and vodka: not a chiffonade of lettuce or dollop of mayo in sight!  Suffice to say, the pictured version is not that of the hunter gatherer.

I spend a good part of the class teaching everyone how to pronounce Croque Monsieur before they decide it's easier to say Ham and Cheese toastie - they have a point.  Appropriately, as it's Melbourne Cup day, we also make a Bookmaker sandwich (which I had never heard of - nor had anyone else needless to say).  Most pubs would call it a steak sandwich - use tomato sauce instead of Dijon mustard.

We make smoked salmon canapés, and salami and gherkin crostini with the tomato relish we made earlier in the week. By the time assessment arrives on Thursday we think it will be an easy session. But there are 9 things to make: mayonnaise, vinaigrette, stuffed eggs, two types of canapes, a Croque Monsieur, a triple layer Club, a Tomato Salad and a Niçoise salad.  Nothing complicated, just lots of fiddly bits. We don't all survive and there are a couple of re-sits required. One is Dumb, who thinking his Club sandwich had been assessed, didn't bother to check and went ahead and ate it. Duh.
He made another one but it didn't pass!  I hook out another Merit, slightly over crisp crostini and soft filling in the stuffed eggs proving a barrier between me and the elusive Distinction. Yeah, really! Our assessment tutor is a total perfectionist.

So not a lot else to report this week. Our resident ex-addict has been off getting his teeth out  -poor dental health being a side effect of extended P use. According to my oracle (wikipedia) it is known as "meth mouth" and probably caused by "a combination of drug-induced psychological and physiological changes resulting in dry mouth, extended periods of poor oral hygiene, frequent consumption of high-calorie, carbonated beverages and teeth grinding and clenching". So kids, think about that before you light your first pipe.

This week is the final week of the Certificate in Food Preparation -  next week we start our Diploma in Culinary Art!  I have an exam on Monday, so must away and finish re-reading my notes.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Week 16: Sure to rise

While I am a pretty good baker overall - and modest(!) with it - bread has never been my strength. It just never seems to do what it should.  Indeed, nearly 40 years ago I became permanently traumatised by the mirth of my sister-in-law-to-be as she scorned my feeble efforts.  Unless I use a breadmaker (which is obviously cheating) my loaves tend to have the appearance of small windowless buildings, so this week I look forward to mastering the mysteries of yeast products.  Following the long weekend, we commence our school week on Tuesday with basic bread rolls, basic sweet buns, doughnuts and cream buns and Hot Cross Buns - more on those later.  We use fresh yeast, which I haven't used before as I just buy the dried stuff from the supermarket.  Fresh yeast is easy to use but doesn't keep long so probably only good if you are going to make yeast products very regularly.

The basic bread dough and bread roll shaping passes without incident.  We scale the dough to ensure the even size and weight of each roll.  Using the basic sweet bun dough we make doughnuts and cream buns.  The hunter gatherer is gutted that we make these early in the week and that they will be given away rather than carried home on Friday - my ex work colleagues are the happy recipients.  To make the doughnuts we mould the dough around a spoonful of  raspberry jam.  Into the deep fryer they go, then - contain yourselves..... we roll them in in cinnamon sugar.  Yum - deep fried dough and sugar.
To make the cream buns we roll them out and shape them, and give them a little sugar wash when they come out of the oven.  When they are cool, we cut a slit in the top and plop in a dollop of raspberry jam and pipe in Chantilly cream (this is just whipped cream with a little icing sugar added).  Just like the ones Billy Bunter eats.  Yum - baked dough, sugar AND fat!
The Hot Cross Buns expose a cultural rift.  This day I am sharing the bench with our lovely overseas student from Kenya, and he makes the dough.  I don't take a lot of notice as I am busy making another mix, but when I look at his dough which he has set aside to prove, it looks rather anaemic. When I ask if he thinks it looks a bit pale for Hot Cross Buns he says he doesn't know what they are, and has never seen one, never mind eaten one! It transpires he hasn't put enough spice in.  We decide to rename ours Kenyan Cross Buns. I couldn't resist taking a photo of him "taste-testing" the cream buns.

Wednesday is no day for weaklings - I thought beating up that gnocchi last week tested my arms!  Today we make Genoese sponge, a double recipe, without mechanical intervention.  This requires hand whisking 8 egg yolks with sugar in a bowl over a warm water bath - the bowl that is, not me - until it is thick and pale reaches "ribbon" stage.  That is when you can lift the whisk and make a figure 8 with the mix and it will hold a little before melting back.  THIS TAKES AGES.  Use a freaking mixer!  However, our tutor is a sadist and wants us to know the "feel" of the mixture.  By the time we have made the sponges and hand mixed Semolina Syrup Cake and Chocolate Cup Cakes I am ready for a full body cast - or at the very least a shoulder massage.

And the next day we get on to yeast baked desserts: Savarin and Rum Babas.  The process here is a bit different as the yeast ferments in the flour.  It will be of interest  - at least to my family who grew up with our Polish grandmother's expression 'stare babka' (old woman or grandmother) - that baba is a diminutive form of the Polish babka. And I have no idea why or where a rum old grandmother may have given the genesis to a rum soaked yeast dessert, so don't ask!
However, the original Baba was introduced into France in the 18th century by Stanislas, the exiled king of Poland. In 1844, the Julien brothers, Parisian pâtissiers, invented the "Savarin" which is strongly inspired by the "Baba au Rhum" but uses a circular ring cake mould instead of the cylinder usually used for Rum Baba (thank you wikipedia).

The week's upper body exercise regime is complete when we also make Sauce Anglaise - egg custard but without any custard powder or thickener  - just egg yolks.  This is not as easy as it sounds - first you have to whisk up the eggs and sugar until pale and frothy, and then pour in your hot milk before putting it all back in a clean pan and gradually cooking - stirring all the time - until it thickens slightly i.e. coats the back of a spoon. If it goes too far you get scrambled or curdled eggs.  Not good. But the Anglaise is particularly good with the warmed chocolate cup cakes (which, going against the grain, I do not ice).

Assessment this week is the Fruit Flan (first made a couple of weeks ago, vol au vents - fortunately this time I remember to dock the bases, and Sauce Anglaise. It is a busy session and I don't think one of my finest efforts, but I come out of it with a Merit again - reinforcing my view that Merits are not hard to come by. That said, several fail the assessment.

And back at home we commit vege infanticide to enjoy lunch on a sunny Marlborough spring Saturday: baby broad beans, baby spinach, baby carrots with smoked salmon and  homemade bread rolls. Now that really is yum - and no sugar or fat in sight.

Yes, I know it is upside down but I loaded the image twice and that's the way it wants to stay!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Week 15: They let us cook for paying customers

Excitement! This week we are the chefs at Bistro 107, the restaurant attached to Weltec.
- the fiery pit where hospitality students practice their dubious and imperfect skills on the unsuspecting public. And customers pay for it! But not much.
$25 buys you two courses, $35 three courses from a set menu.

As I mentioned last week, our group, the fabulous Novotel, divides into two and I am in the group cooking the lunch menu on Monday and Tuesday. Our Chef Tutor tells us to arrive early and bags the dish we want to cook. 
And the menu is:

French Onion soup
Niçoise Salad
Mussels Grilled with Sauce Provençale (dinner only)

Layered Gnocchi Romaine
Chicken Breast with Herbed Rice Pilaf and Madeira Jus
Grilled Sirloin Steak with French Fries and Béarnaise Sauce

Lemon Meringue Pie
Vanilla Pannacotta with Raspberry Coulis and Praline (dinner only)

The upside of the lunch service is it isn't as busy as dinner so we have time to find our feet. The downside we don't find out til Monday morning - as the first service of the week there is no prep done for anything so we are starting from scratch.

Having perused the dishes and recipes over the weekend, I decide I want to do the gnocchi dish. It has several components (gnocchi, wilted spinach, tomato sauce, and mornay sauce) and that makes it interesting.  Also, more challenging than anything else on the menu, and more appealing than hand cutting kilos of potatoes for the fries.

Duh! I should have known better. Do you know that, in Italian, gnocco means an idiot or a stupid person? I do now.

The gnocchi  for this recipe is made with semolina which, you will be as surprised as I to know is the purified wheat middlings of durum wheat. If you have made polenta  (cornmeal ) before, this is the same way I now make the gnocchi. Bring milk, garlic, nutmeg and seasoning to the boil and then "rain in" the semolina in a smooth stream, beating like buggery all the time so to avoid lumps.  This is all well and good when making it at home in small quantities, but I am beating 720gms of semolina into 3 litres of milk in a BIG pot - think thick porridge and lots of beating.

As I don't have guns like Madonna, so I find this somewhat of a task (note to self: go back to the gym one day). I do manage to avoid the  glassy lumps that can occur if you do not beat hard and fast. After adding butter, Parmesan and egg yolk to the mix  I wrestle it into trays to cool before cutting it into shapes and frying it off in preparation for service.  In between all this I am making the other sauces, and washing and destemming 2 kg of spinach. Spinach doesn't weigh much, so 2 kg is a lot of destemming and cleaning.

You'd think 4 hours was a looonnngg time to do all this prep. At least that is what I think as I look at the recipe and time it out in my head the night before. But nooooo, I fail to factor in how much longer large quantities take to prep and cook. Lesson learned.

The various other characters in my group also manage their ends adequately. The lazy ones of course select the dishes that require the least effort (they think! until they have to peel and slice kilos of onions for the soup) or the safety of what we have done before in class (Lemon Meringue Pie). All in all, Monday's lunch service passes without too much drama as there are only about 17 covers - restaurant talk for how many people get fed during a service. 

Tuesday, some of us switch around after a bit of heavy encouragement. There are pros and cons to doing the same dish. You tend to be faster the second day, and if you are a reflective type, will have decided what to do differently or more efficiently. I have a much easier day of it by doing the Niçoise Salad, the side salads that go out with the main courses, and helping out with the dessert section. Taking over the gnocchi, our little china boy burns the first batch and then fails to stir the second lot well enough to avoid lumps and finds himself in a world of pain. Overall however, it is another slowish day so generally more relaxed. We fear for our Novotel colleagues who will do service the following night, as they haven't been in the production kitchen before and have 40 covers for dinner. Yes, we fear for them while chuckling in a evil manner and twirling our moustaches, thankful our introduction to commercial service was more gentle.

Even though there is a lot of left over prep from our service the day before and the other group's dinner, we do more prep to make it easier on the next shift, so there isn't really any down time. And, of course, there is always the big clean up. No dishies (dishwashers) in our kitchen.

So a short but intense two days and then some days of leading up to Labour weekend and the BIG MATCH. How come I don't feel like we won when we did? The weeks are going by fast. Next week we are baking again, but this time it is bread and buns and other yeasty goodies.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Weeks 13 & 14: Wake up and smell the baking

Picture this: 8.00am on a Monday morning - two half days of costing theory ahead of us. About two thirds of the class are there and a few more dribble in over the next half to three quarters of an hour. Some of those already there, and most of those who dribble in, have cans of V or Coke or Mother or some other noxious crap in a can. They sit down, fold their arms on their desks and put their heads down. Excellent. 
"I've got such a hangover" groans Jiggly.
"Then go home" - I'm all sympathy.
"But we have to be here."
"But you're not here, are you. You're asleep on your desk."
"Ohh, sorry, sorry eh."
"Don't apologise to me, apologise to the tutor, and effing wake up."
Thus starts the week.
Once again, two half days of theory could easily be compressed into a shorter session or self-paced tutorial. It isn't complicated but at the end of the second day some people are still struggling with costing recipes. The formula is simple: price per purchase unit of the commodity, divided by unit size by the quantity used in the recipe.
For example, you buy 500grams of butter (of course you do!) for $4.55. The recipe uses 50 grams. 4.55/500 x 50 = .45 cents. Do that for all your recipe components, divide by the yield (how many portions does the recipe serve?) and you have cost price per portion. Divide the cost price by the food cost percentage the business works to, multiply by 100 and you have the selling price per portion. Easy. And fun. We work though a couple of examples then take some recipes, food costing sheets and ingredients prices away for homework.

Last week, and I do apologise for the lateness of the blog, but this way you get two for one! Bargain. Last week we baked. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here's a few thousand words.
Fruit flan, involving sweet pastry, creme patisserie, shingling fruit and glazing. FYI, the Risk Consultant and the GM come for lunch, and after a Thai Fish Curry help dispose of the flan, which they pronounce  "really good". We also make Apple Pies, Palmiers - the curly things - Baklava, Meringues, Apple and  
Cinnamon Turnovers, Vol-au-vents, Fruit coulis, Vacherins - meringue nests - Lemon curd, Lemon Meringue Pie, Blueberry Muffins, Cheese Scones, Anzac Biscuits, Florentines, Sablé Biscuits - kind of shortbread, and the first time I have piped biscuits. The mixture is quite stiff so the shapes are a bit odd at first, but once the mixture softens and I get the hang of it they go well.
I also now know what happens if you forget to dock puff pastry! (remember docking? pricking the pastry base before blind baking).
I forget to dock the base of my vol-au-vent cases before baking them. They rise beautifully, but the leaning tower of Pisa has nothing on these babies! I wish I had taken a photo as they did look funny - not a bit like a pastry case should. Interesting aside, more than half the class do not know what a vol-au-vent is before they make them.

Starting to have mild panic attacks about next week now. We are in the Production Kitchen that serves the Bistro -paying customers. Our tutor has divided our group into two so there will be 6 or 7 of us in the kitchen rather than the whole class, which varies in numbers depending on any given day. He has divided the four competent ones - yes, that does include me - so two of us are in each group. We also have our share of challenges - tongue stud and one half of Dumb and Dumber included. We are doing lunch service on Monday and Tuesday, so stand by for tales of these exciting adventures.....

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Week 12: Two fish and a scoop please

This week, the fine art of frying: shallow frying, deep frying, stir frying, sauteing. I'm sure I see - and eat - more fried food this week than in the past ten years combined. Yes, it's true, fat does taste good - but only when food is properly prepared and cooked. 

All the same, I do think  it is best to interfere with fish as little as possible. In class, using terakihi, we interfere with it three different ways: 

1. Fish/Poisson Meunière - where it is simply tossed in seasoned flour and pan fried. Interestingly, the French word 'le meunier' means miller. Those of you who know French nouns have a gender may briefly ponder a potential franglais inconsistency: in French fish is le poisson (masculine) and meunière is the feminine form.  On the other hand if we refer to the dish as it probably should be referred to, that is as Fish à la Meunière then it is fish in the style of the miller's wife. She probably had plenty of flour to hand and so simply dredged the fish and fried it - in butter of course. And then, if that wasn't enough, made Sauce Meunière - melted browned butter, lemon juice and parsley.

2. Fish à l'Orly - fish in the style of Orly (which is south of Paris in case you wondered). Essentially this is battered fish as you know and love it. In class we use terakihi (yum), beer batter and the deep fryer, and it is pretty good.  Tips and tricks around this are to really make sure the batter only thinly coats the fish but coats it fully. The batter, or indeed any coating, protects the fish from the oil: the theory being it is the steam build up inside the batter than cooks the fish. How's that for justification for eating deep fried fillets??

3. Fish à l'Anglaise - English style is flour, egg and breadcrumbs - and deep fried. This is where the translation really falls apart, as we all know battered fish is an English thing. Not in classic cuisine, however. The two French students who turn up this week to spend two weeks at Weltec followed by two weeks work experience in town, confirm they too call this method of coating food 'pane anglaise'.

We make tartare sauce, of course making the mayonnaise base by hand -  beating, beating, beating the oil into egg yolks. We sauté potatoes, cook tempura vegetables, and deep fry onion rings à la française - in the French manner - which is milk and flour, and deep fry chips. For the chips we cut the potatoes evenly - 6cm x1cm x1cm awakening nightmares about carrot cuts from week one. Cooking the battered fish and chips involves two stages, just like the local fish'n'chip shop. The first frying is at a lower heat - 150°C and is called blanching - partially cook and do not colour the food. It is let cool and then the second frying is at 185°C and crisps everything up. Heston Blumenthal, having spent a long time investigating how to make the best chips ever, brings his chips to the boil before draining and cooling them right down in the fridge. His second cooking is blanching in 130°C oil before he completely cools them again. The final fry is in 190°C oil. Apparently this produces the finest fluffy on the inside crisp on the outside chip. He also spent approximately 72 years investigating which type of potato to use, but hey - he's Heston.

proving an omelette pan
It is the omelettes, however, that cause some people the most grief this week. The perfect omelette is a rare and beautiful thing, and before we start we must prove the omelette pans. Note we don't use any non stick cookware in the kitchen - non stick surfaces have a habit of flaking off eventually and finding their way into the food.  To prepare, or prove, the pan, put in rock salt (which has a nice rough surface) and then over the heat shake the pan and swirl the salt around. This essentially scours the pan and gives a clean, smooth surface which you then wipe out with kitchen towel and a wee bit of oil. We cook a two egg (nothing else except salt and white pepper) omelette in clarified butter. As it cooks, draw the sides to the centre with a fork - I need to take more photos don't I - until it reaches a stage where it is set but still moist (not runny) - the word for this is baveuse. At this point fold two sides in and turn it out onto a warm plate so the beautiful bottom is the presentation side. At this point it can be split and filling added. Most people would generally fill the omelette while it was cooking, but that is not the City and Guilds way.

Dishes of the week for me are the Falafels with yoghurt sauce, and also those we stir fry: Hokkien noodles with prawns and Stir Fried Beef with vegetables. 

The lowlight of the week happens early Monday, with tongue stud girl proclaiming her intention to get a nipple piercing. Now this isn't a quiet aside in the girls' changing room you understand. No, it is  a veritable announcement to all. By Thursday she treats us to a description of how f-ing painful it is. Not much sympathy ensues. Fortunately we aren't asked to bear witness.

Baking next week - everything from scones to fruit flans. I'll take more photos, I promise.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Week 11: Soggy bottoms prove an impediment

This week crosses more boundaries than Shane Warne with a cell phone. We travel from Cornwall to Istanbul, from Lorraine to Tokyo by way of Naples with a short stop in the Mediterranean. Would that it were actual,  rather than simply in the steamy kitchens of Weltec!

Our culinary adventures this week are in grilling and baking - Cornish Pasties, Quiche Lorraine, Teriyaki Grilled Chicken, Char-grilled Vegetables, Grilled Lamb Kebabs, Cauliflower au Gratin  - I wouldn't immediately put that in a list of grilled food but of course gratin fits that category - and so on. The hunter gatherer is home from the wild west, and after eating mountains of hamburgers, steaks and fries for the past month he enjoys the more international cuisine that comes his way this week.

So, in regards to the pastry - Excellent Cornish Pastie if I do say so myself. However, having taken immense pains to blind bake my quiche pastry so it is dry and crisp before adding the filling, I am reduced to sobs as the filling overflows just a tad during cooking: this means the base is not as crisp as it should be. To a person, everyone else in the class under cooks their crusts and so there are no Distinctions in assessment this week. Boo hoo all round.

For those unfamiliar with the term, blind baking does not mean we wear blindfolds in the kitchen - that would be foolish and dangerous. It means pre-baking the pastry shell prior to cooking it with its filling. To do this, first roll out the pastry and place it in the pie dish. Prick the bottom with a fork (this is known as docking and prevents an uneven rise) then put some baking paper in the raw pastry shell and fill with dried beans or rice. This keeps the bottom from puffing up and the sides from falling in. You can get special ceramic baking beads but that is an unnecessary extravagance when you can use ordinary old rice or beans and re-use them whenever you make a pastry case. In an ideal world blind baking it means no soggy bottom pastry baked goods. I exhort you to check out your local cafes and sneak a peek at their pastry - I have to say I see a lot of not quite cooked pastry bottoms around town.

We make an excellent pizza. As I generally use the bread machine and dried yeast to make my pizza dough, making it by hand and using fresh yeast is a new experience. The dough does feel springier. The pizza base is really good and I manage to roll it thinly. To cook them we use those pizza dishes with holes in the bottom and it makes for a crisp crust. It re-heats well and I share it with the financial controller for lunch the next day.

Next week - or actually this week and I finish writing this blog on Tuesday morning! Sorry for the delay for those of you frantically searching your in-box for the email feed. I was away at the vet's 50th for the weekend and didn't get a chance to blog - yes, I know it should be my priority in life but sometimes life gets in the way of priorities.

This week then, we are immersing ourselves in frying - yes, shallow and deep fat frying, so stand by for tips on the perfect fish and chips!