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, 4 February 2012

Week 26: fabulous farinaceous

Did you look up farinaceous? 

It sounds wonderful doesn't it?  A bit like luscious, or curvaceous, or stupendous - all of which you are likely to become if you indulge in an excess of farinaceous products.  It is from the French la farine, meaning flour, however the term has expanded to mean starch products in general.  Actually, it may well come from Latin, but as I was severely traumatised by Sister Barbara in Form 5 Latin class, I am now incapable of remembering any Latin vocabulary.

Do you know how many kinds of flour there are?  Nor do I, but my friend Wiki lists 30 odd, aside from the obvious wheat flours we use on a day to day basis.  It is likely you use either standard (aka soft, all purpose, plain) flour and high grade (aka premium or strong)  most often.  Strong flour has a higher gluten content and is more suitable for bread and pastas.  Soft flour is better for cakes, pastries, scones and other baking.  All that said, I inadvertently use all purpose instead of strong flour to make my pasta during assessment this week  yet still manage to get Distinction, so it can't be that crucial.

drying sheets of pasta before shaping
True confessions: I do not own a pasta machine and prior to this week I have never made fresh pasta. Yet I do like eating the stuff - though not so much by the end of the week.  Aside from plain pasta, which we use for fettuccine and so on, we fool around with flavours, also making tomato, spinach and - my favourite - squid ink.  My tortellini are not very accomplished as you can see, and look more like mitres than the belly buttons (they are also known as umbellico).  Legend has it when Lucretia Borgia stayed in an inn one night the innkeeper was so captivated by her beauty he peered through the keyhole of her dimly lit bedroom. The sight of her navel was enough to send him into ecstasy and inspired him to create the tortellini that night.  Apparently she hadn't been eating too much pasta so he could see her navel.  I'm not sure who peered through which keyhole to create ravioli, but I am happier with my ravioli which do look like little pillows.

Other farinaceous products that receive our attention this week include gnocchi.  It transpires there are three main types (who knew?) one of which you may remember from
Week 15: They let us cook for paying customers (if you haven't read this blog it is worth reading) That's was gnocchi romaine - made with semolina. We use potato to make gnocchi piemontaise, the one you probably know best; and gnocchi parisienne. Now this last one is a complete revelation to me - it is made using pâte à choux - choux pastry, the same stuff you use for eclairs and profiteroles, but with parmesan and no sugar.   Once the dough is ready you pipe it into simmering water to poach, then transfer to a baking dish, cover with cheese and bake. I wish I could say mine look like the ones in the photo but they don't.  I refrain from photographing mine which look more like anaemic worms. However they do taste good with a blue cheese and walnut sauce.

What else? Shanghai dumplings made with a spicy pork filling are good. Most of the class deep fry theirs and eat them on the day. The hunter gatherer and I eat them for lunch today, however I do not recommend freezing uncooked dumplings in two layers!  They stick together and as a result we eat free form steamed dim sum -delicious none the less.

All in all, an enjoyable week.  People are starting to look for work experience placements and also for jobs as we approach the end of the course. From the middle of March we do three weeks work experience (unpaid) before returning to class for a couple of weeks and the course end on April 20th.  In the past students completed work experience in two blocks, one of which was about half way through the course. Apparently chefs would then "poach" the students from the course so students didn't return. This was a loss to Weltec as they then lost the subsidy for the student. Also a loss to the student as they did not gain their (internationally recognised) qualification. Consequently we do one longer block close to the end.

That's all for this week - enjoy our national day on Monday.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Week 25: cold collations

Big news! Lazarus is risen from the dead - I'll save the salacious details for the end of this blog,  so read on.

The work we do this week fits into the kitchen category of the larder or garde-manger, which more or less translates as "keep to eat".  In a large kitchen this is usually everything cold except pastry and desserts, i.e. salads, dressings, hors d'oeuvres, canapés, charcuterie, pâtés, terrines and so on.  We create some things you know you will never see, let alone do again - ever! and some things that you know you will do when you want to impress the pants off your dinner guests (not literally - well, I'm not one to judge, maybe you do). 

Falling into the first category is the Eggplant and Capsicum Terrine.  Imagine, if you will, beautifully fresh vegetables tenderly cooked and  layered artistically, then served cold in jelly.
 Yes, aspic work, also known as aspic gelée or aspic jelly.  Aspic can be used to protect food from the air, give food more flavour, or as a decoration. We practise using blanched, thinly cut vegetables, herbs and vegetable peelings.  I create a little work I call "Snakes in the garden of Eden".  As you can readily see, I am bereft of artistic talent.   

Our Kenyan boy has studied design and shows more talent with his "Setting Sun". The techniques we use are those only seen on a cold buffet table, circa 1970something. Or perhaps in Julia Childs' The Art of French Cooking.

That is one of the wonderful things about doing the London City and Guilds course - learning redundant skills. A little harsh, but while it is not hard to imagine using aspic in many ways in the future, for example in meat terrines, pork pies and the like, I struggle to imagine any circumstance where I would be moved to make a cold vegetable terrine, or to smother a stuffed chicken leg with aspic and decorate it with flowers cut out of vegetables.  However I stand to be corrected, as per the Prawn Cocktail, and am ready for Something under Aspic to be the height of elegant dining in the near future. Answers on a postcard please.
On the other hand boning out is a worthwhile skill and one of the things I came on the course hoping to learn.  We tunnel bone a chicken leg and thigh so it stays intact, then stuff it with a mousseline made from the chicken breast.  This is Chicken Ballotine, and a little tricky, but a technique I will use, potentially to impress someone's pants off.  Mind you, I probably won't poach the ballotine in chicken stock, cool it, cover it with a thick velouté (a chaud froid, literally warm cold), cool it again, cover with aspic and chill before serving. Rather, I can imagine it seared to crisp the skin.  As we are required to do the whole aspic thing for class I opt for simplicity, refusing to insult the chicken with decoration I adorn the plate with a simple cabbage tree. Restrained and classy I feel! 

Pork pies meet with great enthusiasm, particularly from pony tail guy, our Englishman. To prepare the pastry we use lard and butter melted in hot water  - rather different from other pastries to date. We hand raise the pastry, rather than roll it - another new technique. We press the pastry into the wooden moulds you see in the picture below. Unlike other pies, the filling is uncooked. Once the filling is in and the pastry firm, we ease the pies from the mould, put a little funnel in to allow the steam to escape, and cook slowly at a lowish temperature. This is necessary as the meat needs to cook thoroughly but without burning the pastry. Once out of the oven, the same wee funnel serves to convey the aspic, the idea being the aspic fills the gap created as the cooked meat shrinks away from the pastry. My pie should have more aspic in it, however the hunter gatherer pronounces it the best pork pie he has ever had. Then again, until he knew better he used to heat them up when they are designed to be eaten cold.  It may be of interest to some of you to know that, in Yorkshire, a pork pie is sometimes referred to as a growler.  True.

What else do we do? Caesar Salad, Warm Chicken Liver Salad, Chicken Liver Paté, russian Salad - which is simply cubed, lightly cooked veg in mayonnaise.  I ask you.

Assessment this week is Chicken Ballotine, mercifully NOT under aspic - just shingled and served hot; Warm Chicken Liver Salad, and the dread Eggplant and Capsicum Terrine. Actually it is quite a challenging assessment as there is a lot of different and fiddly bits of prep for the mise-en-place for each dish. Also, as we are working with chicken we have to be scrupulous about food hygiene so careful prep and constant cleaning and sanitising are important. All week I do not look forward to assessment with any enthusiasm whatsoever, so it is extra pleasing when I'm the only one in the class to gain Distinction this week. The tutor pronounces my terrine to be excellent, so while I still think it's pants, I am pleased to have pulled it off technically, along with the other dishes. See, he even wrote excellent on my plate! It's the little things.

Now, Lazarus - my new moniker for jiggly guy. You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather when he turned up for class this week apparently determined to pick up, catch up and finish the course. The usual stuff - I know I've fucked up; Sorry I've let you down; I know I'm a junkie, that's what I am, etc etc. Weltec certainly gives people a long leash, and the tutors are prepared to let him back in.  The thing is, when he is focussed he works really hard, but whether he can overcome the crap that dogs his life - who knows. He tells me he overdosed twice, and that when they had to use adrenaline to bring him back he decided to sort himself out. He is going to counselling four times a week and has a job in a pub kitchen so if he can stick at it he might make it.  I hope he does, because he is a pretty nice guy, if somewhat stuffed up!

Next week, farinaceous products. Go on, look it up!