Saturday, January 22, 2011

Cooks Academy Week 1

Greeted at the door by the offer of fresh scones and coffee. I am handed an enormous folder - which contains all the recipes we'll be cooking over the next four weeks, as well as general information on techniques and flavours etc. This looks like it may well be the only cook book I'll ever need. I have a quick leaf through

The premises is large, spacious and flooded with light. We're provided with lockers for the duration of the course, which is a great thing as I don't fancy cycling more than I have to with a bag full of knives!

Once everyone has arrived we are introduced to our main tutor. She has a huge range of experience in different cheffing positions, private cheffing, catering and teaching. She studied in the Cordon Blue School in London.

We have a chat amongst ourselves and then are introduced to the group by the person we are sitting beside. It appears a very evenly diverse group in terms of ages, genders and levels of experience. An amount of people looking to get a start on a career, others already working in the food industry and others looking to improve their home cooking skills. 17 people in total are attending the course

We have a quick safety and hygiene lecture. All common sense but well worth repeating.

Then it's off to the kitchen for some cooking. We are paired off and take to our fantastically equipped stations. Each station has four gas rings and two induction hobs. There is plenty of worktop space. Sinks are located all together behind you. Supplies are all along one side of the room.

Each group made one soup and two types of bread. But between the whole class we made 4 different breads and 5 different soups. We brought our dishes when finished for marking by our tutor - I think she liked ours.

For the duration of this course - I hope to share some photos with you of what I have prepared. I however won't be sharing the exact recipes as those really belong to the Cooks Academy. My mushroom soup was amazing - there was a huge variety of mushrooms to choose from a  great indication of the quality ingredients that we will get to work with over the next few weeks.

After our dishes were marked we all sat down to have lunch and were then able to try out our classmates soups and breads - which was good to have a taste of every ones work.

After lunch and a good strong coffee - we sat down for the afternoon demo. This demo included shortcrust pastry, quiche Lorraine, raspberry jam and pears in red wine and ginger. There was great banter between the class and teachers. Some experienced cooks in the class so it's good to also learn from them too.

Sadly bold me took very few photos today - maybe tomorrow I'll be feeling braver and get a few decent snaps of the finished product - now to bed I 'm very tired!


Ok I was lying about being tired after day 1  - I went for a run after and all. This evening I'm proper knackered, no extra exercise that's for sure.

This morning we made some of the food that had been demo'ed to us the previous afternoon. So quickly we got into knocking up some short crust pastry. I tried to will my hands to be good cold pastry hands. I think this might have worked as my pastry didn't get  greasy before I put it in the fridge to chill.

Then it was onto making a batch of raspberry jam. Careful watching to ensure that it didn't stick to the bottom of the pan - but not over stirring to induce super fast crystalising of the sugar. Pushing on the chilled plate didn't work for me - but my jam still set.

Then time to roll out the pastry into it's tart case. Learned a handy trick of rolling the pastry over the rolling pin to transport it over the case. Much easier than trying to pick it up with your hands - it always tears.

Then back into the fridge with it.

Jarring up in jam in sterilised jars.

Then onto making the filling for my tart. Courgette, potato, tomato, basil and spring onions - not forgetting the eggs and cream of course.

Blind bake the case.

Then weigh out ingredients for scones.

Then assemble the tart and pop in the oven.

Mix up scones and roll out.

Pop in other oven.

Look at tart - not cooking

Check it again 10 mins later

Scones cooked

Check tarts- still nothing doing - hmmmm oh oven not working. Transfer to other oven - slight panic running way overtime

eek wash up - everyone else is finished and eating - ahhhh starving, wash more - ahhh egg won't come off.

Get tart marked - needs more salt - ok that's grand
Can I eat it now? Yes



Afternoon demo involved the gutting and filleting of a sea bass, general fish talk. Sauces for fish. Making a Victoria sponge. Making a lemon beurre blanc. And a white loaf made with live yeast.

A great tip for the perfect Victoria Sponge  - is to weigh the eggs first and then use the same amount of butter, self raising flour and sugar to make the mixture. We all got to sample this after - with some cream and the jam we made earlier - it was amazing. Forgotten how good cakes could be as I don't really eat them that much. That's sure to change over the next couple of weeks - mmmmmmmm

Now I really must sleep!


Hurray finally got to take some photos. Must mean I'm getting into the swing of things. Arrived a little late to write out my time plan - so I cheated and used our tutors one. First up was a white loaf made using live yeast. I'd never seen live yeast before - it comes in a big block a  little resembling clay - it is flaky however and a little springy.

When using live yeast you need to mix it in with some warm water before adding into your flour. I was taught the proper stance and technique for kneading. You really have to attack that bread. After 15 or more minutes of kneading was dough was ready - and off it went to have it's first proving.

Then it was onto filleting a whole sea bass, now I have to admit this took me ages. Partly I think because of my super sharp filleting knife and my fear of slicing my hand off. Also I really wanted to get it right. And I did - when I ate the fish there was not one single bone - not one - woo hoo victory is mine. The beautifully filleted fish went into the fridge while we prepared accompaniments.

I made this - honest! Isn't it awesome
The bread was knocked back and shaped - it had risen loads I was very happy. I chose to make a party brot - a German bread covering each section in different seeds.

Sea Bass with lemon beurre blanc and zero bones - success
After it was time to start on the lemon beurre blanc. Now I won't lie to you this sauce appears to be made of 98% butter. 1% lemon juice and 1% infused vinegar. Despite this it's time consuming to make - making sure the pan doesn't get hotter than your hand can touch, adding the butter little bit by little bit. The finished sauce is very tasty - but I'm not sure it's worth it!

Country Loaf
My wonderfully sea bass was then over cooked by me - boo and served with slightly too salty spinach - that's the critique. I ate it though and it was wonderful - I would be delighted to get that in a restaurant. And well I'll let the photo of my bread speak for itself.

Some of the other loaves baked by the class
Then there was afternoon demos and I'm not writing about it cause I'm too tired. It did involve various way of jointing a chicken - which is going to  be really useful. BAM night night

Very challenging to extract myself from bed this morning

First things first - a whole chicken to joint. This is going to be so useful in the future oh yeah. You can prob buy a whole chicken cheaper than you can a few breasts. We put the carcasses and  wing tips into the oven to roast so that they could be made into brown stock.

Now the menu for today made me a bit unsure if I would actually learn anything apart from the chicken jointing. The other items were banana bread, cauliflower cheese, gravy and roast potatoes and chicken. All of these I have many many times before and using pretty similar techniques to the ones we were to use.

Now I'm not sure if it's one or a  combination of all the below factors
1) Using more butter and cream
2) Seasoning a bit more
3) Paying a lot more attention
4) Having an amazing kitchen and equipment to work with
5) Getting good advice as you go along
6) Not substituting any parts of recipe and following it exactly
7) Cooking and not thinking of anything else but the food
8) More careful planning and preparation
or lastly
9) Having constructive criticism of each dish. You'll never hear friends or family telling you that your skin wasn't crispy enough or that it all needed better plating up (or maybe my friends and family know how badly I take criticism and decide it's not worth it - haha either way I don't care!)

Now  the end result of today was the best roast chicken and gravy and cauliflower cheese I've ever made - you can't say better than that
Not an amazing shot of a very yummy chicken
Oh my banana bread was good too - just not a huge banana bread fan is all. The cupcakes looked fab - two words piping bag!

Banana Bread - plain and simple
I sustained some deep and lasting physcological damage when as a little girl in first class in school was cruelly denied by my parents the opportunity at playing mini little bride and receiving my first communion! 'What do you mean we're not Catholic and I'm not baptised?' I said. Look at all of those glitter and sequins and tulle and veils and shiny shiny shoes, ppllleeaasseeeee! This have resolved me to get married 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding Style' I may console myself by making these piping bag meringues and basing styles of wedding dress upon them, until my big day!
Insert my face on top and that's me on my wedding day!

Perfect meringues from the piping bag were first up on the menu for today - I'd never used one of these bags before - once you use your lower hand to direct the movement and the upper hand to apply even pressure then you'll get a decent result. I'd like a bit more practice but this could prove a little wasteful of egg whites. May I could practice with some icing. The whole process was a lot easier and less messy than I expected.

Yum in an understatement for this!
Next up was loin of pork wrapped in proscuttio and stuffed with pears and spinach. Good skills in cutting and hammering of meat and how to roll and wrap things. Yup that's it pretty much. Fry it then in the oven for 15 mins. To go with it a white wine and reduction stock made with brown stock made the previous day. This was amazing - I was very happy with myself.  
Also made a nice apricot and orange coulis to go with the meringues and toasted hazelnuts.

The afternoon was spent learning industry standard health and safety. HACCP. Now I am in complete awe of how anyone runs a food business and complies with this strict and stringent codes of practice, invented by NASA to keep astronauts from getting food poisoning in space. I understand that they're completely necessary, puts paid to a few business plans I had - sure I'll find a way to make it work

Week one over and out - congratulations if you read this far - I'll post you a meringue!


Nessa Robins said...

The course sounds wonderful- you got through so much in one week!

MammysKitchen said...

Wow, what a busy week! The course sounds amazing. Lucky lady!

Travel Food Phil said...

I'm jealous. Love the pics and sounds awesome. Have fun on week two and I'm awaiting my meringue.

Caroline@Bibliocook said...

Sounds like you're enjoying it! It's just like when I was in Ballymaloe - you're just so busy the whole time that the time flys along. Lots of good eating too!

ktpi said...

wow!!! i'm in awe!!

Lu said...

Nessa - yes it was jam packed felt like way more than a week
Mammy - it's great must take it all in!
Phil - glad you got to the end!! It's in the post
Caroline - you did 12 weeks in Ballymaloe - that's a whole different kettle of fish!
ktpi - I'll have to bring my chefs smock to Madrid!

Aoife Mc said...

Looks brilliant, Lucy! Well done on writing it all up and keep the updates coming!

Lu said...

Thanks Aoife - it was a labour on Sat morning after a long week I can tell you! Writing up day 8 right now

Imen McDonnell said...

It looks like you had a fantastic experience! It all looks delicious...a lot of hard work, but def worth it right? Thanks for sharing with us! xx

Lu said...

Yeah it's pretty full on alright - am knackered! Totally worth it - will just have to keep practising the skills when I'm finished that shouldn't be hard