Marion Les Chocolats, Création Artisanale, Lets Make Some Chocolates!

The last full on day cooking at The French House Party Gourmet Explorer holiday came much too soon, but it was to be a fantastic time as usual.Photo 04-06-2019, 10 09 49I have done a bit of chocolate work with Mark Tilling, he was 7th in the world in 2009 and won the first ever Bake Off Créme de la Créme in 2016, it was a privilege to be able so to spend a day with him learning all things chocolate, and the morning we spent with Marion in her ‘Chocolate Boutique’ was to be no different, it was brilliant fun and the end results were really very good, a testament to her teaching and her very good English, much better than my hopeless French.IMG_0545.JPGMarion’s ‘Boutique’ is 5.2 miles to the North Of Carcassonne in ‘Pennautier’, in fact 16 rue Pierre Loti 11610 to be precise! It’s very close to the impressive ‘Château de Pennautier’. I have marked the boutique, in the fortified village on the map above, it’s very historic and well worth a walk around if you are in the area.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 22 54Her small ‘chocolate kitchen’ is near the centre of the ‘fortified village’, where sessions like ours are run and she sells some of her fantastic products, her husband shares the premises where great organic wines are also available, what a partnership!

You can also buy the chocolate mail order HEREPhoto 04-06-2019, 09 32 35We started off by making a caramel, to fill some of the chocolates we were going to produce later. It was fascinating (to me), to understand how a professional knows when the sugar has reached the correct stage before adding the other ingredients, you will have to spend a morning with Marion to find out though, she runs regular ‘ Stage d’initiation au chocolat’!photo-04-06-2019-10-43-49.jpgThere was a lot going on as we went through various stages of delicious Chocolate production. Gill, one of our ‘team’ is making ‘Rocher’ in the picture above. You remember the advert, the big pile of circular golden delicacies balancing on the waiters tray, that annoying music playing. These were much better than the mass manufactured version, but then I would say that!

A centre of home made, hand rolled Hazelnut Ganache, a coating of Almond and Caramel ‘shards’, and then a coating of quality Chocolate, we had the choice of White, Milk or Dark.Photo 04-06-2019, 11 13 00We also made ‘Orangettes’, and ‘Lemonettes’ and ‘Gingerettes’, I made up the last two but essentially a firm, sticky fruit stick, dipped in my case, Dark Chocolate. There were filled Chocolates, and yes, we made a box, out of Chocolate, mine White and Milk, with a Cocoa Butter Patterned Transfer, I have some of those at home so must find an excuse to use them one day soon.IMG_0546It was soon time to go, and on the way out some bars of Chocolate were too tempting to not purchase, Caramel, Gianduja and Fleur De Sea, yum.

Thank-you Marion for a fantastic morning and Moira, our host for organising. The next post will cover the final session with Jean-Marc and wow, what another great session it was.

 

…………Until Next Time………………..L8ers………………………………….

 

Lunch done, Let’s Prepare Dinner!

Monday morning’s time in the kitchen with Jean-Marc was really good fun. We had been chopping, mixing, constructing, making sorbets and ice creams,  and to be honest, what we ended up with tasted very good indeed. Dessert was simple (a slight relief), but even simple can take your tastebuds to the moon and back.

‘Fraises’ or Strawberries as we know them, they were abundant in all the markets and featured heavily in our dessert combining a Puree, a marination in Balsamic Vinegar Basil Ice-Cream, and some ‘Nut Crumble’ we had left over from the previous days efforts to provide some texture, it was very good and you can see the dish in the featured image at the head of this blog post.photo-03-06-2019-15-31-58.jpgLobster is a delicate meat and was to be part of our evenings menu, very nice indeed.

The next few hours were going to be even more testing with ‘Pastilla’ as the main feature for this evening. A Moroccan dish traditionally made with Pigeon, this was an interesting  interpretation and one I was looking forward too as I had made a ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ version some months back, and posted the exercise on the blog, it took hours to make!photo-03-06-2019-15-49-15.jpg Having cooked the Lobster for a couple of minutes after dispatching it using a knife through the………you don’t want to hear that I guess, but we were using the freshest high quality produce as is always the case at The French House Party.

Jean-Marc, who owns Le Puits du Trésor (The Treasure Well), a 1 Michelin starred restaurant in nearby Lastours (The Towers), brings the most amazing ingredients that are fit for only the best restaurants, but still available in the High Street or online so we could reproduce all that we made.

Nothing is wasted and the Lobster Shells were cooked on a high heat before adding Shallots and Garlic, Water and Tomato Paste to make a rich, tasty lobster sauce which was reduced by over half to make it thick and umptious, yummy!photo-03-06-2019-16-37-47.jpgAnyone for Daiquoise with Apricots? My piping needs a lot of practise, it started well, going from the centre but I was a bit lop sided and you can see what it ended up like. As it was going to be covered in all sorts of yumminess it wasn’t a problem.Photo 03-06-2019, 18 36 00The starter was to be a simple but tasty Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with a Garlic and Basil Oil, we all had great fun preparing the evening meal and when we had finished we sat down to enjoy all three courses, plating each one in turn learning more culinary skills. Oh, and the usual Cheese course which I really enjoy, I have a thing for Cheese!

So that was Dinner. Spring Vegetable Vol-eu-Vent with Garlic and Basil Oil, Lobster Pastilla with Mild Spices and Honey (and you can see a sprinkling of grated bright orange coral in the picture above),  and Hazelnut Daiquoise with Apricots, oh, and some locally sourced Wine to help it down of course.

Phew, that was a marathon day. At least 6 hours in the kitchen, interspersed with the odd break for tea/coffee in the afternoon, and ‘bubbles’ in the early evening it was well worth the effort.

Jean-Marc Boyer is cooking for the French President, Macron in August, he is pretty good having held his star since 2007 and if you check out his BIO it’s very impressive indeed. We were extremely lucky to have him as our Chef Tutor, he a lovely man and personal friend this being my third time cooking with him over the last few years at Moira’s amazing French House Party.

And then comes…………………………Chocolate 🙂

 

………………………………Until Next Time……………….L8ers………….

Remi The ‘Cake’, Dom the ‘Thief’ and a 21 Year Old Chef (He is Wow)!

Please excuse the title of this post, Sunday at ‘The French House Party’ was a another day to remember, filled with excitement, history, intrigue and lots of fantastic food and flavour experiences, typical really and why I love coming here.tR%v+B01TRyuP9Z9BYDNVQThe morning started with the communal breakfast outside as the weather has been fabulous, with fresh everything, Fruit, Bread, Jams, Cheese, Ham, Tomatoes, Croissant, Tea or Coffee and always needed to set you up for a very busy day!

This morning we were delighted to have ‘Remi’ Touja as our tutor, holder of the French Sucre D’or, a national award for outstanding Patisserie as shown by the placard adorning his shop front, this guy was seriously good. IMG_0248So, what about Chocolate Brownies and Coconut Panacotta, what’s that all about, taking what seems very simple and elevating It was the order of the day.C24DE086-B424-4839-9100-E772B2843D46As is usual with my reviews of personal trips on cooking vacations and the like, I won’t divulge the complete experience as it really will not do justice to what goes on and what you experience, suffice to say we all learnt lots about presentation, flavour mixing and how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and it was enlightening to say the least! This is my 3rd trip to the French House Party and I will definitely be back for more.IMG_0361After lunch and a brief rest we headed out for the town of Limoux.

Limoux is a commune and sub-prefecture in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Occitane region in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 miles) due south of Carcassonne. Its vineyards are famous for being first to produce sparkling wine known as Blanquette de Limoux, that’s what WIKI says!

I’ve been to Limoux before and really enjoyed it, and this time was no different. Didier was our guide at Maison GUINOTthe oldest producer of Blanquettes and Cremants since 1875. These fine sparkling wines predate Champagne and it was Dom Perignon that came to Limoux, saw the technique (aka nicked it), and took it back to the Champagne region, the rest is a lesson in marketing!fullsizeoutput_b2fThe tour of the cellars and its history are great fun and really interesting, the produce is exceptional and awesome value, you cannot get it in the U.K. except by mail order as they limit production. The other stuff in U.K. supermarkets marketed as Crémante and Blanquette is mass produced by other local ‘Maison’ and they do not use the same old traditional methods which you will find about if you come and visit. Guess what, my suitcase is a bit heavier, oops.

After the trip to Maison Guinot, we headed across country to the restaurant for our evening meal, it was a delightful drive, the sun was a stunning colour lighting up the countryside, filled with grape vines and we all chatted about the trip to the ‘Guinot bubble factory’, which was fab!

Our final stop of the day was Domaine Michaud, in the hilly village of Roullens. (www.domainemichaud.eu). 

The location is stunning with views out to Carcassonne and the surrounding countryside which was stunning as you can see in the heading picture.8D6BC63B-83F7-4E2F-8799-6F5B17938ECBDomaine Michaud is a “gastronomical’ B&B set near the base of the Pyrenees, and close to  Carcassonne. The owners are Dutch; Jolanda, Fred, Naomi and Sandor the exceptional 21 year old chef who provided us with the most amazing meal.

Service was delightful, each dish being explained. There is no menu, you just book and they ask if you have any dislikes and allergies, the food was just stunning, stunning, yep, STUNNING.

I have eaten in a few restaurants, with the odd star or two, honestly, this is THE BEST so far, beyond doubt. What an amazing chef Sandor is, age 21!

Oh my god, what a meal. If was to have a ‘bucket list’ for last meals this HAS to be it, it was F&%$@£? (expletive) amazing!

There was a moment when Moira (our host) and I shared eyes (not that way 🙂 as the wine choice was based on the two vineyards we had tasted on my last trip to the French House Party in 2017, Domaine Le Fort and Domaine Gayda, both exceptional for their own reasons. Naomi did an excellent job of explaining why the wines had been paired with the food we were eating.

That’s it for tonight, its well after midnight, and I am sadly travelling back to the U.K tomorrow, but the review is not finished yet, hopefully  I will get the rest finished in the morning.

 

…………………Until Next Time………………L8ers……………

 

 

 

 

 

Monjayaki – A kind of Goo, and Other Japanese Deliciousness. Cooking with Tim Anderson of Masterchef Fame.

mount-fuji-rising-above-houses-in-japanIt’s been a while, too long in fact since I have donned a Chef’s apron and spent time learning some new skills and techniques of the culinary kind so the opportunity to spend a day with the Masterchef 2011 winner, Tim Anderson was too good an opportunity to miss!

The last (and only) time I have attempted cooking Japanese was in January 2016, a Katsu Curry type of recipe which blended Simon Rimmer (of Sunday Brunch fame), with the Hairy Bikers and it did taste very good, so posted it on the blog so I could repeat if needed.photo-27-04-2019-11-05-15.jpgThe Bertinet Cookery School is in Bath, I have been visiting frequently over the last few years and been fortunate to spend some with some fantastic chefs. On the train journey in I searched YouTube for evidence of Tims’ cooking, other than the Masterchef series where I had seem him win in 2011, and found a few videos to watch and get into the mood.photo-27-04-2019-12-03-16.jpgThere were 9 of us cooking and I teamed up with David and Jamal as we set to the various recipes that were given to us at the start of the session. We were going to cook some of the food in Tims’ new book TOKYO Stories, which is an excellent read as it guides you through the city like a food tourist, providing hints and clues as to how to get the most out of the ‘bonkers’ city. Thank-you David and Jamal for being great companions during the cooking experience, your company and chat was really nice and made everything so easy.photo-27-04-2019-10-57-13.jpgSo how about ‘Noodles in a Bun’! Yakisoba Pan is just that, the finished dish is further up the page and consists of, yep, Noodles in a Bun. The trick is packing loads of flavour and texture into the Noodles and adding various accompaniments such as ‘Aonori‘ (Sea Weed strips), ‘Tonkatsu‘ sauce (like HP but better), ‘Kewpie‘ Mayonnaise (a richer umami hit than normal mayo) and pickled Ginger. it was surprisingly tasty and everyone was silent as we ‘chowed down’!photo-27-04-2019-13-39-40.jpgTim gave us lots of anecdotes and talked of his many travels to the ‘bonkers’ city that is Tokyo which was fascinating, explaining how things work so buy the book and you will find out all about it. Menchi Katsu was another interesting wholesome dish, spiced Beef and Pork patties which were bound with Panko Breadcrumbs, Eggs Yolks and Cream. Coated in Panko and deep fried they were rich and juicy.Photo 27-04-2019, 11 11 24It was a very ‘hands-on’ day, lots of prep getting dishes to a point of readiness and then cooking at the last minute. One interesting dish out of the menu used Salmon ‘scraps’ cooked into fried Rice, a great way of ‘eeking’ the last inch of flavour out of waste that would normally be thrown away. Tim showed us what to do before we all set about doing our own.Photo 27-04-2019, 13 10 39The sessions are always relaxed at the cookery school, but each ‘team’ creates a bond, shares life experiences and its amazing how you very quickly forget about the week before or think about the week ahead, there is a ‘bubble’ that you enter and its surprisingly relaxing, even though you are all busy, working together preparing great food.Photo 27-04-2019, 12 41 44We were progressing really well so our chef tutor Tim decided to go ‘off piste’ and chuck in an extra dish which he demonstrated to us. Monjayaki, a kind of Goo it’s just that, weird indeed, but, very tasty. It’s a ‘not omelette’ sort of dish, with various ‘stuff’, in our case Kimchi (made by the lovely Jen, head helper and overseer at the school), some sweetcorn out of a can, some spring onions and a ‘not quite batter’ which was the goo, finished with Mozzarella Cheese which melted and crisped at the edges. Photo 27-04-2019, 13 37 17Another ‘treat’ was a cocktail using a Japanese ingredient, Umeboshi a  dried fermented Apricot kind of fruit. We all tasted a small piece, KAPOW! A bit sweet, a bit salty, a bit sour, in a intense kind of way it was………interesting! Muddled in a glass with Gin, Vodka, Dry Vermouth, Sweet Vermouth and in our case Byrrh it certainly packed a punch, slightly sharp and sour but very tasty and went well with the food.Photo 27-04-2019, 13 43 59So, another fantastic day with a great bunch of people all sharing a love of food. The Bertinet Cookery school is extremely well organised, properly equipped and always uses top quality ingredients. Tim Anderson was brilliant, made everyone real relaxed and showed an extensive knowledge of Japans food culture, another day I won’t forget, and new skills to practise in the future.

In 4 weeks I am off to France again to the French House Party on another culinary adventure and will be posting pictures on Twitter (@Julian_G4UET) Instagram (g4uet) and there will be blogs updates each day If I get time.

 

………………………………….Until Next Time………………L8ers……………….

 

 

A Vacancy in Langkawi, My Take on Spiced Toffee Apple Streusel Cake and Marini’s on 57, Kuala Lumpur!

Photo 05-12-2017, 14 18 48Things have been a bit manic since the last post. A trip to Kuala Lumpur, busy at work and sporadic cooking has meant the blog has been a bit sparse despite time in the kitchen so hopefully with time off, over the next few days I can catch up and share some of the kitchen experiments and food experiences.

The Trip to Kuala Lumpur was #Epic, eating in some very good restaurants and tasting some stunning and delicious food was an experience not to be repeated, a reward for doing a great job at work it included a trip across town on the back of a Harley Davidson, with 39 others following with a 5 bike Police escort waving us through red traffic lights and keeping the traffic out of the way!Photo 31-12-2017, 15 43 14Some free time enabled us to explore for ourselves and I put together a fews hours of time to visit numerous temples and markets which was great fun. Back street butchers provided an interesting insight into the daily life of Malaysians, along with the Fish Head Curry Restaurant and numerous hawkers selling an array of amazing tasty food at affordable prices.

One of the stand-out restaurants was Marini’s on 57, which surprisingly is on level 57 of one of the Petronas Towers in central Kuala Lumpur. It was an un-expected treat, I have not been on one of these trips before so was surprised to be visiting a high end ‘Italian’ restaurant in Malaysia!

The stand-out dish for me (and I was blown away), was Sous Vide Pink Prawns with Hollandaise Sauce and Sevruga Caviar Powder!Photo 24-11-2017, 13 06 57I have never had such a beautiful soft, packed with flavour prawn in my life, it was stunning!

On the flip side of cuisine, equally delicious was breakfast, Roti Canai (flaky flatbreads), Curry Puffs, Fish Curry, Dhal and Sweet Tea, it was such a change from the usual ‘British’ breakfast that many of my colleagues went for, they really don’t know what they were missing.Photo 23-11-2017, 23 52 24So, back to the U.K. and with a team meeting on the horizon I was looking for something to bake for the team, alongside the obligatory Moroccan Sausage Rolls which are are demanded, I wanted to do something a but different, and was inspired by a Toffee Apple Cake Recipe by Sophie Thompson, a Celebrity Masterchef Winner, you can find the original HERE Photo 05-12-2017, 12 12 19 You start by making a batter as per the recipe, flour, eggs,  ground almonds etc. My additions were to make it a bit more festive and I added the zest of 1 Orange, 1 Lemon, a sprinkling of Mace and some Cardamon (remove the green outer and crush the seeds, about 2 – 3 Cardamons should do it).

The Toffee Sauce was ‘salted’ with Flour de Sea. You need to add, taste, add, taste until you get the balance right, its delicious when you hit that magic spot.Photo 05-12-2017, 22 04 01I used two types of Apple, Pink Lady and Bramley, the 1st going in the centre and the 2nd on top. My other change to the original recipe was to add a Streusel topping on top of the Apple and Toffee Sauce top layer.  I used 25 grams Flour, 1/2 Tsp Cinnamon, 50 grams cold Butter and 45 grams roasted chopped Hazelnuts. Photo 07-12-2017, 14 11 32The result was delicious and the team loved it as much as I enjoyed making it, I also provided some Clotted Cream to serve, well it was the Christmas meeting!

That’s it for 2017, hope you have enjoyed the blog as much as I have writing it. I will be adding the rest of the remainder of 2017 in the coming days.

…………………………………….Until next time L8ers…………………..

 

Continuing the Dessert Development, Vanilla Black and Oklava (2 Awesome Restaurants)

The continuing saga of dessert development goes on! The 1st bash had gone ok, but there is much work to do to get things to the point I would be happy, and make a completed version of Pistachio Dacquoise, Roasted Pineapple Jelly, Kerisik Mousse and Chocolate Glaze, for friends to try.

From the last session, I had been considering how to notch things up a bit so looking through the various components, Dacquoise, Mousse etc. I decided to focus on the Pineapple and see if I could improve things, so how do you make Pineapple special?The 1st version used Pineapple that had been roasted with some sugar in the oven, it was ok but quite sharp. I could add more sugar, like Muscovado to add more depth but decided I would try something new and make a ‘Spiced Caramel‘ to roast the Pineapple in, never done that before. Adding 2 parts Sugar to 1 part water and slowly bringing to the boil you can start to smell the Caramel aroma fill the kitchen. Looking through various books and posts there are loads of methods published explaining not to stir the mixture as its creates crystals and wiping the sides if the pot with a wet brush to ensure all the sugar is dissolved.The spicing would come from a range of aromats, added once the Caramel is made and cooled a bit to prevent burning the spices, the sugar mixture is EXTREMELY HOT. The Sugar/Water mixture started to boil rapidly and change colour from White, to Tan to Brown, job done. I source my herbs and spices from Steenbergs, my favourite supplier and they were to feature heavily in the added flavours. Organic Lemon and Orange Oil, Cinnamon, Cardamon, Star Anise, Sanscho Pepper (from Japan) and grated Tonka Bean. I did not use the Ginger as shown in the picture above in the end, I might try some fresh Ginger next time round.I let the Caramel cool for quite a while and then added the spices as you can see above, I used about 1/2 a grated Tonka Bean, the flavour is similar to Vanilla but subtly different, buy some to see what I mean. The Japanese Pepper adds a delicious bite to the Pineapple and an extra edge!I used two fresh Pineapples, removed the core and skin and cut into rough chunks as above. The oven was set to 180 deg, I poured the caramel over the apples and mixed well, removing the spices with a sieve beforehand and set the timer to 2 hours. I checked the Apples every 30 minutes and gave then a good mix up to make sure the Caramel was coating them well.It was noticeable that the moisture from the Pineapple had ‘diluted’ the Caramel so unlike last time, the cooking was extended to about 2 hours and 20 minutes, you can see the results above. I think in hindsight I could have taken the Caramel to a much deeper colour in the first stage to make it even richer but thats the point of experimentation in the kitchen.I didn’t go through the jelly stage this time round, we had the Pineapple warmed through with some clotted cream and it was really very tasty. Learnings for next time are:

  1. Take the Caramel much further to a deeper colour
  2. Let the spices steep for even longer to allow the flavours to infuse even more

Next time I will be focussing on getting the Pistachio Dacquoise into better shape, and then looking at the Kerisik Mousse but all this will be when I am back from Malaysia, a trip I am extremely excited about.

In the last few weeks I have had to spend some overnight time in London, and been lucky enough to try out a couple of new restaurants, Vanilla Black and Oklava, both at different ends of the foodie spectrum so here was my experience at both.

A Night at Vanilla Black!

Lets start by saying I am NOT a vegetarian, but Vanilla Black IS a Vegetarian and Vegan establishment situated in Tooks Court near Chancery Lane in London.

So why the hell did I, a meat eating carnivore who loves the finer side of Ox Cheek, Jacobs Ladder, Liver, Heart and who knows what else decide to pay very good money to try this ‘vegetarian’ place out? Because the food looked AMAZING, and other reviews had suggested this was not your run-of-the-mill place to eat Nut Roast, Stuffed Peppers, Vegetarian Lasagne and all the other variations of meat dishes, with the traditional protein replaced by ingredients like Quinoa, Cous Cous, Haloumi or other products that could be used in more imaginative ways, just like Yotam Ottolenghi is pretty damn good at!

So I sat at my table, a little earlier than planned as my 30 minute walk turned out to be only 15 minutes and perused the menu. I had already chosen to be honest, I was going for the Vegetarian Tasting menu with matching wine flight, might as well do things properly. The restaurant was already pretty full and buzzing, most of the eateries I has passed on the way were either empty or only had a very small clientele, a good sign I thought.I was presented with a glass of bubbles shortly after arrival which was a nice surprise, and some home made bread and butter to nibble on to get things going. The 1st of 2 amuse bouche was a delightful mouth cleanser as my waitress explained, a Carbonated Apple drink with small pieces of Celery and a dusting of Parsley powder it certainly did the trick, refreshing with some lovely texture it set me up for what was to come.Hmm, here we go, course number 1: Cucumber, Sticky Rice and Ginger Purée, Pickled Cucumber Ketchup and Seaweed, what the hell was going on in my mouth, it was just stunning. When you read the ingredients and think, sounds a bit, you know…The Sticky Rice was surrounded in a crumb so you got oodles of texture, all the other flavours just danced around, it was very good indeed, the ginger doing a really good job of reminding you it was ever present.  The wine that accompanied this dish the waitress explained was a Hattingly Sparkling Wine which really worked very well with the various flavours.So onto dish no.2: Baby Fennel, Creamed Lemon and Toast, Fennel Purée and Ice, Basil and Lime, served with a Tempranillo Blanc. I was writing notes in between each course on my iPhone, to remind me what I was tasting. I particularly remember this dish as the contrasts between the temperatures were a real hit, quite magical on the palate.Things were getting interesting, if not already exceeding all my expectations. The service from the young Hungarian waitress was impeccable, taking time to explain each course, and why the particular wine matched. I asked for a list of the wines as I had not taken detailed notes and she arrived back with a piece of paper with them all written down for me, she was very passionate about the food being served.

Annoyingly, I was so wrapped up in the ‘vegetarian’ experience I forgot to capture the 2nd Amuse Bouche which was based on Buratta, I’ve had the pleasure of a private trip to an artisan cheese producer in Puglia and tasted it fresh along with Mozzarella and Ricotta, still warm from the production process it’s fabulous.

So dish no.3? Tomato Shortbread, Sheep’s Milk and Brocoli, Gem Lettuce and Egg Yolk, served with a Sancerre. This was frustratingly good, warm Shortbread, sorry no, Tomato Shortbread it was warm and delish with the Sheeps Milk Centre (Cheese of course), again with different texture and flavours bouncing all over the place.It was all going very well, nothing to get the slightest bit ‘oh, not sure about that’, and before too long it was course no.4: Baked High Cross and Charred Spring Onions, Roasted Onion Purée served with a Rioja Promesa, very nice too. The only ‘minor’ challenge with this dish was the Spring Onions which were slightly stringy, but otherwise another amazing piece of food engineering.Unfortunately it was time for dessert, and I am Type 1 diabetic, but on occasions and this was to be one of the them (two actually, more in a moment) I thew caution to the wind as the Cep Mushroom Fudge, Roasted Cocoa and Honey Ice Cream, Salted Lavender Honeycomb and Brioche landed in front of me, complete with a Tokaji Dessert wine. Bugger, it was so so so delicious, I could argue at least one of my five a day was on the plate. Cep Mushroom Fudge WTF!! Just Brilliant, the sweet wine a perfect match that was me done for the evening, or that’s what I thought!Next thing I knew I was presented with another dessert, this one from the Vegan menu! Coconut Sorbet, Toasted Rice Mousse and Coffee Coconut Crumble and Coffee Sponge, thank-you Chef a really nice touch it was another stunner, but for me the Cep Mushroom Fudge is definitely the winner on this occasion.

So, I guess you can tell I am now a Vegetarian! No, not quite but the evening at Vanilla Black was beyond outstanding, why, because it was Vegetarian and everything I was served was amazing (spring onions excused), I went in with an open mind and came out astounded at how they could produce some of the best plates of food I have ever eaten, so thank-you Andrew, and your brilliant team.

If you fancy trying something a little different and prepared to have your mind messed with, I whole heartedly recommend the tasting menu for a whole new experience, it was awesome.

Now on to Oklava!

Selim Kiazim was on Saturday Kitchen this morning on BBC1, she is a fantastic Chef and I was lucky enough to get a place at her restaurant Oklava a few weeks back, with a book recently published of the same name it sits proudly on my shelf nestled amongst Yotam Ottolenghi, Sabrina Ghayour and Bethany Kehdy, to name a few middle eastern favourites.

Turkish Cypriot food is on the menu, with the option of a table or sitting at the ‘pass’ watching the food being prepared it’s a very warm and open environment.

This was my second night in London, and after Vanilla Black, was looking for something different, and Oklava hit the mark. I managed to get a booking the day before and also managed to arrive 45 mins early this time, the underground was running very well and walking distances on my side had been completely over estimated. The place was buzzing just like the previous evening which again bode well for a great night to come.

This evenings menu included meat and fish too but strangely, I did opt for a Vegetarian option for one of the courses, more of that in a moment.

I was given the option of sitting at the end of the bar and had a fantastic view of all that was going on, which was really great. Seeing Selim and her all female team in action was really interesting as the orders were placed, and the food prepared in front of me, the open fronted oven in the background used for roasting various menu items.

There is a nice menu selection which should cover most tastes, mine was to start with the Spiced Chicken Parfait, Cracker and Pickled Apricots which I watched being prepared before me.

Really very nice indeed the Parfait was very smooth and packed full of flavour, the spicing tickling the tastebuds enough to say ‘hello, i’m here’! The home made cracker was an interesting addition, replacing the usual heavy bread which can fill you up too much before a main course.I was being looked after by a lovely American lass, who had arrived in the UK about 3 months previously and certainly knew the menu well, making recommendations and suggestions as to what would work. To go with the food i picked a Turkish Wine from Northern Anatolia, Diren Collection 2015 which is made from a grape i had not heard of, Narince which was very tasty.

My next dish was a bit unusual, in that it was that ‘vegetarian’ feeling taking over me again, Chilli Roast Cauliflower, Red Onion, Parsley and Pistachios was ordered and arrived after getting the roasting treatment from the open oven. It’s in Selim’s book, also called Oklava so i am looking forward to having a go in the future myself. I reckon it could stand up as a main course all on it’s own with maybe some salad as a side. It was very rich and packed full of flavour, i am glad i picked a lighter main course.For the main even i went for Lahmacun, something i have wanted to try since seeing Rick Stein munch through one on his series Mediterranean Escapes in 2010! Spicy lamb mince on a home made wood fired flat bread, topped with a zesty salad and lemon juice then rolled and eaten it was very very nice indeed.

No dessert for me that evening as the night before had taken my quota for the month, it was a great evening with lovely food, the service was very good, attentive and unfussy Oklava deserves the positive accolades it receives, highly recommended and one to return too in the future.

Selim kindly signed a menu for me to take home during service to keep with the Oklava book I proudly own.

 

 

……………………………………….Until nest time…………………….L8ers………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Love India – A Day With The Delightful and Very Talented Anjum Anand, At Bertinets’ Cookery School

Cookery Books can be a fantastic source of inspiration and simultaneously just as frustrating, when the dish you have spent ages preparing turns out really disappointing, and in some cases inedible! I LOVE cookery books, especially where the content takes you on a journey with the author through a period of life, or travels through an unfamiliar land of exotic and tingling flavours.

When a I received a call the other week, “Hey hun, there is a nice looking Indian Cookery Book called ‘I Love India‘, by someone called Anjum Anand, do you want me to get it for you?”, my immediate response was “Yes Please”. I knew of Anjum, I had one of her earlier cookery books, and had seen some of her television series so I felt sure it was going to be good, this was to be her eighth book and as they say, practise makes perfect ;-).

I don’t know why I ended up looking at my regular Cookery School’s web page later that day, Richard Bertinet In Bath but there it was before me, “A Day with Anjum Anand, I Love India”.

Minutes later the course was booked and would be taking place a couple of weeks after my annual cookery trip to France, talk about overloaded with cooking!!!I’m very familiar with the setup at Richard’s School, this would be my six course, having spent days with the likes of Mark Hix, Dhruv Baker, José Pizzaro and Omar Allibhoy as well as the master Bread Maker himself Richard, you are always guaranteed high quality chefs, a relaxed atmosphere, great support from the team of lovely ladies that organise and clean (esp. newby Charlotte), and teaming up with like minded enthusiasts all ages, and from all walks of life who want to learn new skills. After the usual Tea, Coffee and Toast (Richards Bread is just fab) with home made conserves we were introduced to the menu we were going to prepare, in 2 groups of 4 people. Anjum explained that we were going to be all hands-on, no demonstrations as she would be working with us, explaining the necessary techniques on the way which sounded just perfect, and just ask questions if you are not sure.

The starter was to be ‘Goan’ Prawn & Coconut Cakes with Tangy Coriander Chutney, for main course we would prepare ‘Kutch’ Chicken Biryani with a Spinach and Dill Raita and Four Seed Tomato Spiced Okra, dessert being Chilled Mango, Coconut and Pearl Pudding.

Goa /ˈɡ.ə/ is a state in India within the coastal region known as the Konkan in Western India. It is bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south, with the Arabian Sea forming its Western coast. It is India’s smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Goa has highest GDP per capita among all Indian states………………….

Kutch, is a region in the extreme west of the western Indian state of Gujarat, can be traced back to prehistorical times. There are several sites related to Indus valley civilisation in the region and it is mentioned in Hindu mythology. In historical times, Kutch is mentioned in Greek writings during the time of Alexander The Great.

Biryani is an Urdu word derived from the Persian language, which was used as an official language in different parts of medieval India, by various Islamic dynasties. One theory is that it originates from “birinj”, the Persian word for rice. Another theory is that it derives from “biryan” or “beriyan” (to fry or roast).

So take what looks like a simple description of food and start to interpret the description, next minute you are in a time warp back to 5th Century India and ancient dynasties that evolved over time, as did their cuisine, taking influence from food 4000 years ago, food is not boring if you take a little time to get under the skin of its origins! Click on the various links in the text above to explore for yourself.So we started to prepare the Goan Prawns and accompanying Chutney, this is where being with the author of the book really helps, as it’s very difficult to explain texture, smell and flavour in a book, preparing it with the cook in the room and you start to pick up all the important hints and tips to get the best out of the recipe. This was a case in point with the texture required for the Prawn Cakes which needed blending, but not to extinction!!!! The correct balance of ‘glue’ to texture would provide the desired effect and so we took a step by step approach so we could see what was required.There is only one book (that I am aware of), that takes this issue full on and that’s Marcus Wareings’ “How to Cook The Perfect”, which goes a good way towards addressing the challenge of subtle technique, and is highly recommended.

So how big do you need to make these savoury Goan delights, well that would depend on whether making for an hors d’oeuvre, starter or main course, if you cannot get Panko breadcrumbs are white breadcrumbs ok, the questions kept coming, all relevant and important to the person asking them, and useful for the rest of the budding cooks.As we carried on with our preparation more questions followed, the subjective issue of herb quantities for the Chutney, to join the Goan Prawn Cakes we were making a Tangy Coriander Chutney, the ‘Tang’ provided by Lemon, with some texture from Pistachios, with Mint and Garlic to add to the flavoursome accompaniment. The consensus was that at the end of the day, everyones palate is different and adjust to what YOU like but we all agreed testing the Chutney without having some Goan Cake at the same time was the only way to ensure the flavour profile was appropriate. Shock, Horror, OMG, its delicious, we made that!!

There was happiness and surprises as we progressed to the more complicated dishes. Food from this continent is more familiar to me having had the pleasure of spending a day with Dhruv Baker, but also a couple of days with a cook from Pakistan, Sumayya Usmani where I had learned to cook a Biryani amongst other dishes of the region. But there is more than one Biryani!I love Biryani but here in the U.K. we have a little problem, I am yet to have eaten a Biryani in a restaurant or takeaway, nope, definitely not a proper Biryani, not one that even comes close. Today we MADE A BIRYANI, a proper one, from the Kutch region of India, a result.Kutch district (also spelled as Kachchh) is a district of Gujarat state in western India. Covering an area of 45,674 km², it is the largest district of India. The population of Kutch is 2,092,371. And THEY know how to make a proper Biryani.

It’s a complex dish with several stages like making a marinade, frying some dry spices, making crispy onions (not burn’t) from scratch (you can cheat, but won’t have the fragrant oil left over!), preparing the rice etc. It was great fun as we all did our bit to contribute towards the final dish.Anjum is an absolutely lovely lady, patient calm, full of enthusiasm and abound with knowledge about the food and region, her life story is really interesting and forms the start of her book I love India where the recipes for the cookery session came from. She was really happy to answer all the questions we threw at her, at times it must have seemed like a ‘barrage’ during a 17th century attack on a ‘Fortified Castle’, relentless!!

We had prepped the Goan Prawn cakes and were leaving the breadcrumbs to the last minute, the Coriander Chutney was done, Crispy Onions done,  I was on Rice duty and that was good to go too, the morning was rushing by and we needed a break.Those that have been to Richard’s School will know about the late morning break, those of you that don’t, pick a course, book it and find out for yourself as it’s part of the experience, ’nuff said.

After refreshments we carried on finishing the various dishes, the Biryani needed layering, Rice, then the Chicken that we had pre-cooked in the marinade, then more Rice. During the morning each of us had learned so many techniques, like how to tell when Garlic is properly cooked, how to make the perfect Rice, seasoning, these are the things that are so difficult to explain in a book as they involve smell, taste and texture.So what about dessert. Charlotte, one of the lovely ‘BackStage Girls’ as they are know who clean, make tea, prepare as necessary mentioned ‘Frogspawn’ a couple of times!!!

Pearl Pudding was the description in the recipe notes we were given, ah, Tapioca ‘Pearls’, aka Frogspawn for those that remember from their school days. We were given another idea which I am not going to mention, book some time with Anjum to find out more. We prepped Mango cubes, made a Mango and Coconut Cream heavy ‘soup’, with the consistency of Double Cream, boiled the ‘Frogspawn’ and soon everything was done and we were sitting down to a very enjoyable lunch.The Goan Prawn Cakes and Tangy Coriander Chutney were outstanding, really tasty and the Tang of the Chutney went very well indeed. I reckon (only a personal opinion), this could be served with the addition of a Kachumber, a salad of Onion, Tomato and Cucumber (with a Tamarind Dressing), which would be a perfect match and make a lovely lunch or light supper.It was so nice to be eating a proper Biryani again, light, fragrant with textures and pings of flavour from the addition of Currants and Almonds fried in Ghee, and the Fried Onions I had prepared earlier. It was bl@@dy tasty as they would say in Australia!

As I was travelling to the venue in Bath, I was searching YouTube for any Videos of Anjum and came across a hilarious live recording from an Australian breakfast show a few months back, 3 women who seemed to be clueless about Semolina and the difference between YoGhuurt (not a typo, they make it sound like that), and Milk, it was really funny. Anjum was getting it from every direction and still managed to do a great job. We discussed the experience in the morning which was really enlightening, thanks Anjum.

Time for Dessert,  And an apology!We were all so busy commenting on the starter and main, asking Anjum so many questions and having a great foodie conversation I forgot to take a picture of the dessert. We could not get ‘proper’ Mango’s and those we had didn’t have the best flavour, although the result actually tasted Ok.

There was no consensus on the Tapioca pearls, I was a bit contentious and suggested using Maftoul or Moghrabieh  from the Middle East, larger sphericals and used for savoury dishes I reckon they would work really well, so something I am going to try in the future as an experiment.

So another days cooking at Bertinet’s with the lovely Anjum Anand, a brilliant day as usual, learnt loads, cooked lots, ate a bit too it was great fun and I cannot wait until next time. If you see one of Anjum’s course I would highly recommend them. Usual rules apply, I paid full price for this course and all views are my own. I have not been coerced in any way.

 

……………………………….Until Next Time…………..L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking &… more Cooking, Damn it’s so Good!

Photo 20-05-2017, 18 14 22It’s late and I have been having some great interaction with my new ‘buddie’ Marc. Today has been full on as usual, with a significant amount of cooking, processes, prepping food and spending a lot of time reducing sauces! The ‘international’ group is getting on really well, joking laughing and generally making fun at every opportunity!

Today’s menu(s) are quite (read very), comprehensive (read complicated) and included Haddock ‘Burger’ with Lime, Filet of Sea Bream au four, sautéed Squid with Vegetables and Squid Ink Sauce, Duckling with Honey Spiced Sauce, Cream Chiboust with Lemon, Strawberry Salad with Garriguette Basil.  Jeez my stomach is stretching already.Photo 21-05-2017, 10 23 03I am starting with what was probably the least squeamish (and easiest) thing to do, prepping the Squid. Removing the membrane that covers the white ‘flesh’. Getting rid of the ‘beak’,  the hard bony mouth that is inedible, sorting out the tentacles and then dealing with the body, it only takes a short while and all is done.Photo 21-05-2017, 11 53 24The Brioche style buns for the Haddock Burgers needed a couple of proving stages, they were buttery and rich, with a pillowy light texture, well worth the effort. Topped with sesame and poppy-seed to add both texture and flavour.Photo 21-05-2017, 16 29 10The duck was interesting, but in a really positive way coooking wise. I am not sure what happened but I just got on with it, maybe I have learnt enough but it came natural seperating the various components and in seconds the Breast, Thigh Wings etc. were done in the right way and lay before me, job done! Sorry Duck……Photo 21-05-2017, 17 56 31Oh, we had Bream to sort out too, another moment of hmmm, I think I know how to deal with this. It seems the past investment in cookery courses has finally payed off and confidence is growing and growing all the time.Photo 21-05-2017, 12 45 38The Haddock Burger (we had Haddock Fillets so no preparation needed), had a Onion relish to provide acidity, dressed leaves, baked Tomato and Lime cream, it was very tasty and very well-balanced. we all munched away commenting on our own personal tastes, all positive. The gang of seven is working like a well oiled engine, despite the language challenges which make translating ‘work orders’ from Robert even more interesting, he has the patience of a French Saint!photo-21-05-2017-16-42-27.jpgWe made some extremely complex sauces during the day. Hard frying the Duck carcass, adding Onion, Carrot and Celery followed by White Wine and Water and reducing by over 50% to provide a really full flavoured base, full of all the richness that the remaining Duck scraps could release. Photo 21-05-2017, 17 36 19These stocks, if done properly do take time but the investment is well worth while in both depth and layers of flavour, it’s what the professionals do. When at home I usually have days where i make a bulk load, and make up 1 pint freezer bags full, ready for when I need them.photo-21-05-2017-17-35-18.jpgWhilst the stock was doing its stuff in a separate pan we were getting a ‘spice base’ ready, Acacia Honey was cooked until a light to medium brown, then adding Sherry Vinegar, Orange and Grapefruit pieces, Fresh Ginger, Five Spice, Cinnamon,  White Pepper and the Coriander and finally topped up with the reduced Duck Stock, then reduce even further.photo-21-05-2017-10-00-15.jpgThe Squid did not escape either, Shallots, Fish Stock (from the Bream carcasses), Noilly-Prat and Lemon juice were reduced. Then Tomato skins and seeds etc. were added from Tomatoes we had turned into a concasse, then some crushed Garlic, Tomato Concentrate and Ground Almonds were added as the reducing continued, with Squid Ink being the final ingredient, Phewwwww!Photo 21-05-2017, 13 25 29The Squid dish was very complicated, but seriously tasty.  Lots of processes the end result was well worth the effort. We determined that about 70% of the time in preparation was in the stock’s and sauces, which were rich and umptious.photo-21-05-2017-09-52-26.jpgLittle goes to waste on these classes, making the most of all the ingredients is quite an important ethos to get into, stretching as far as using the some of the skins we removed from the Tomatoes to make an EXTREMELY tasty edible garnish, crispy Tomato Skins!

Yep, you heard it, spread some Olive Oil on a tray, lay the skins shiny side down and season, bake in the oven for about an hour on a low heat. Believe me, they were a revelation, you can see them strategically placed on the final squid dish above, along with some Filo diamond ‘crisps’, that added an additional pleasant texture.Photo 21-05-2017, 20 04 15We made what was a simple pepper suace to go with the Bream, accompaniement was lightly fried Courgette Julienne, it was a lovely plate of food. As we sit down to each meal, after several hours tuition and cooking there is always wine on the table, Red, White and Rosé to wash things down. Fresh bread of numerous types is also plentiful, useful for mopping up those sauces that required so much effort to make!Photo 21-05-2017, 20 43 01About 70% of an Artichoke is thown away during preparation, removing the leaves, cutting off the top and getting rid of the furry center they are an aquired taste, one that seems really enjoyable to me, probably in part due to the number of times I have visited France now. They are a bit fiddly and have to be left in acidulated water until needed as they dis-colour very quickly.

We had then with the Duck, along with some thickly sliced Mushrooms that had been fried in oil and butter.

Our first tutor Robert Abraham leaves us first thing, he is such a great cook and will be missed, but will be replaced by Jean-Marc Boyer who will bring a new dimension to the course (and some deserts, which should be interesting)!

……………………..Until next time……………L8ers…………………………….

 

 

 

To revel in ‘Revel’ – Continuing International Adventures at The French House Party

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 23 26I woke up this morning feeling really good, the sun was shining and despite a late(ish) night there was a sense of excitement in my bones. The itinerary at The French House Party is full on, lots to pack in over a few days so the time is used wisely.

Breakfast was lovely, a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurt, Cheese and Ham of various sorts, Croissants, Baguette (the proper stuff) the choice was endless.

We were heading to Revel today, a quaint town with a 14th Century central Square and covered roof, Saturday is market day the reason for our trip.  I have been to Revel before but it is a place you find difficult to not be attracted to, if you are an adventurous foodie like me.

Locals mingling and bustling around the many stalls, buying and selling mostly food of the highest quality with some very unusual options as will become clear shortly.

I am becoming to believe you can tell the pulse and passion of a nation by its cuisine, more importantly how it un-ashamedly sticks to tradition which some may find challenging, Cuy (Guinea Pig in Peru), Cazu Marzu (Maggot Cheese) in Sardinia and France has a few favourites the most notable being (in my own mind) Escargots (Snails) and cuisses de grenouille (Frogs Legs)!2017-05-20 08.52.20Wandering around the many food stands was a delight, fresh artisan Goats cheese, stunning proper Bread that had come fresh out of the oven that morning, Aligote, a smooth blend of cheese and potato and………Ducks Hearts!!2017-05-20 09.14.03There was also a marinated variety, dowsed in Olive Oil and Piment d’Espelette a special variety of pepper from the Basque region of France, I so love the passion this country shows for regional specialities!

The market was buzzing, locals embacing the french tradition of kissing either cheek locally known as ‘faire la bise”, friends greeting as if they had not seen each other for months, live music rolling from the coffee shops entertaining the Gitaines smoking regulars downing coffee, strong enough to sink a battleship.

As an aside, I am writing this blog sampling a very good Domaine Samarel Red Wine listening to the French radio. I have a ‘Zippo’ size FM Stero Radio and doing a quick tune I can pick up over 30 (yes THIRTY) ANALOGUE STEREO radio stations 45 minutes from Toulouse, all rocking and good quality!!!!2017-05-20 09.31.07The market is considerably ‘savoury’ but also caters for the sweet tooth, which is a bit of a challenge for me but one of my new American serious foodie buddies (he is a chef and food traveller/journalist) said the Nougat was really good (that’s not quite accurate but you get my drift). #awesomePhoto 20-05-2017, 15 28 15Back in the mini bus we headed back to foodie ‘HQ’ to start the next cooking session, our ‘light lunch’. As we got ready the kitchen was prepared for us. This lunch was interesting, Sliced Potato, Herb Pesto (Rocket and Spinach), Roasted Tomato (only lightly) Salmon and White Cheese, followed by an Apricot Tart. By the way, our tutor Robert Abraham is an absolutely bl@@dy awesome cook with a lifetime of experience. He is VERY patient and open to ‘suggestions’ if they make sense. He puts a LOT of effort into the menus to ensure students learn as many techniques as possible.Photo 20-05-2017, 12 58 04The starter was extremely tasty, the Pesto had lost a little bit of its freshness (and vibrant colour) but that happpens sometimes, it was still so tasty though, quite rich and took about an hour to prepare. The white Cheese might be difficut to get in the U.K., it’s a bit like a Cream Cheese but a bit more runny. Drops of Sesame Oil on the Asparagus added another dimension.photo-20-05-2017-12-13-36.jpgSome of the tastiest food can be quite simplistic as in the case of the dessert, until I wanted to add a minor addition! A Simple flaky pastry, loaded with pitted fresh Apricots purchased earlier that day and sprinkled with Demerara Sugar. Nope, I wanted to try an experiment and add a savoury note, some Lemon Thyme. So we went 50/50 to compare the difference. (I obviously liked the addition of the Thyme but could had done with some more as the Apricots were very good and had a strong flavour).Photo 20-05-2017, 13 32 18After a break we were back in the kitchen, I said this course was full on! So here we go, Tandoori Style Roast Langoustines with baby Leeks.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 16 55Looks simple huh, hell no! There are a load of processes that go into making this dish, book the course to find out as I am not going to tell you, only that the result had everyone going oh, and ah. It was damn good. Yes, damn good.

The main was Young Lauragai Pigeon with Sweet Clover, Confit of Shallots, Carrots and Honey. You think the starter looked easy the main was full of even more processes. Our ‘group’ of guests is working really well together, old and relatively young we are having great fun, joking and laughing and putting the world to right at the same time which makes the whole experience so great.

One of the guests is Vasily, a Russian living in Switzerland. He is a genuinely lovely guy and we have all been having some great conversation whilst preparing mise en place and eating, drinking and sharing stories and life experiences.Photo 20-05-2017, 19 48 57We all agreed this dish was ‘bl@@dy rich’  but also ‘Bl@@dy Tasty’, it was awesome. This is my interpretation of the plating with a ‘Ying and Yang’ Carrot puree, the three Carrot Tronçon were cooked under a cartouche in Carrot juice, Orange Juice and another ‘secret’ ingredient! There is Pigeon Breast on Foie Gras, Pigeon Leg on Shallot Confit and the two sauces are Carrot and reduced Pigeon jus with some ‘special’ ingredients.Photo 20-05-2017, 20 34 25Anyone can cook a Chocolate Soufflé if they know the process. We used a Crème ‘Pat’ and Meringue mixture to great effect and the results were light, fluffy, silky and delicious.Photo 20-05-2017, 11 52 38So another adventerous day at The French House Party. It’s only day 2 and much has been learnt, the world has been put to rights multiple times, new cooking techniques  have been learnt, we have all probably gained at least an ounce in weight!

It’s an enlightening experience and really takes you way from the hustle and bustle of work which is the main reason I am attracted to these kinds of ‘holidays’. It’s hard work but VERY rewarding.

Breakfast at 8:00 and starting in the kitchen at 9:00 so time to call it a day.

………………………….Until next time…………….L8ers…………….

 

 

 

Dairy Lard and Olive Oil, Oh, and Bomba – All about Spain with Omar Allibhoy at The Bertinet Cookery School

The weather was miserable as I jumped onboard the train to Bath Spa station, on arrival the sun was shinning out of The Bertinet Cookery School as Spanish Chef Supremo Omar Allibhoy was in town, teaching 12 eager cookery enthusiasts and I was on the list!

I booked this course a while back having invested in ‘Tapas Revolution’ over 4 year’s ago, which was Omars’ first book. I spent most of my wife’s birthday in 2013 preparing various Tapas which featured in the book and posted on an earlier blog post HERE. It was also our silver wedding anniversary that year so a good excuse to have some tasty food, I still remember it to this day.

There were 12 of us on the course (a full house) and as usual some familiar faces, friends that had been on previous courses we all settled in very quickly and learnt what the agenda was for the day.We were going to prepare several dishes from different parts of Spain and at the end sit down on the communal table and ‘feast’, which is always a pleasant and fitting end to several hours graft in the kitchen! On the menu was Gazpacho de Sandia (chilled Watermelon soup), Higaditos al Jerez Dulce (Chicken Livers with Sweet Sherry and Spices), Arroz Melosos de Seta (Paella with Mushrooms and Cod), Ensaidmada Mallorquina (Rolled Flaky Pastry).Blimey, apart from the really tasty and slightly un-familiar menu some new techniques to get to grips with, we started on the Mallorcan dessert. An enriched dough was made using an ‘industrial’ grade mixer purely due to the quantity we were making, you could do this in a Kenwood or Kitchen Aid quite easily. We had to get the gluten working hard so this was not a 5 minute process, once done (about 10-15 minutes), the dough was left to rest whilst we worked on the other dishes.As we followed through the menu, Omar spent lots of time explaining some of the interesting facts about Spanish Cuisine, it’s ‘subtle’ not in your face and I personally think it’s a shame that a vast number of tourists only seem to focus on fast food chains and ‘British fry up’s’, Spain has so much more to offer if you make a little effort.

You can think of Spain as lots of regional cook books we learnt, the climate also dictates the methods of cooking but you will have to try and book a course with Omar to find out more, its really interesting.The Ensaidmada was challenging to make, several processes were required after the dough had rested as you can see from the pictures above. I imagined dear old Spanish ladies working away in their kitchens making everything from hand including making the dough without a mixer!

It’s hands on with resting between each process, you are making a VERY thin pastry by hand, which also has a layer of ‘Pork Lard’ spread thinly on top.  Yes, you heard it right, ‘Lard’ is an integral part of this very special dessert.We had some prepared Stock on the hob which was going to be used to make the Paella dish. This was not a traditional ‘dry’ Paella so familiar to tourists but  a ‘sloppy’ one even beyond the wetness of a Risotto.

Omar took time again to explain the Spanish Rice ‘Bomba‘, don’t believe all you read though, speak to a Spanish cook who know what they are talking about as it’s a challenging Rice to use and timing is critical to get a perfect result. We had to reduce the Stock and add ‘hard’ fried Onion, Pepper and Mushrooms with Tomato, Paprika and Saffron before going back to the dessert to finish the preparation.So, we are making a dessert and then add Sobrasada melted into more Pork Lard and spread it all over the stretched dough, Yummmmm!

There are several variants of this dessert, we were going to make both a sweet and savoury version. Once spread gentle rolling is required, I was fortunate to be working with Vivien, who unfortunately had broken her arm a few days previous but still joined in as much as she could. If you have an interest in Preserves, please check out http://www.vivienlloyd.com  as she is an expert in traditional methods and runs courses etc. (I didn’t get paid for the plug btw, she was great fun to work with).Who loves Chicken Livers? Surprisingly Omar put his hand up as he asked the question. Fine in Parfait and pâté but cooked, nope, except this way.  This was to be an appetizer to get the taste buds singing before the Gazpacho. Marinated in some ‘special’ ingredients you can find the recipe in Omar’s new book ‘Spanish Made Simple’, I invested in a copy before departing and look forward to cooking some of the recipes within.Rather than just show and tell, Omar was also hands-on, assisting and guiding all 12 of us during the 5-6 hours of cooking we were to complete before sitting down and eating our efforts. He was very enthusiastic and great fun, telling us more about his experiences in the restaurant industry and giving us hints and tips as we prepared each dish.

Also in the kitchen were the ‘Bertinet Baker Girls’ who cleaned, helped clear up, sort out ingredients, make teas/coffees, snacks etc. They always do an amazing job and help make the sessions run very smoothly.You have to stretch the Ensaidmada before ‘gently’ coiling and allowing to prove for a couple of hours, traditionally this would be done overnight to develop more flavour but our time was limited. Once risen it goes into a hot oven until a deep brown, not the light golden colour we are normally used to when baking.Ignore the ‘rustic’ look of the Chicken Livers, they were to die for, absolutely delightful, tangy, sweet and soft. We served them on some toasted Sour Dough and decided to crack open the wine at the same time as dinner was nearly ready and quick taster of these would get us over the line.The Ensaidmada’s were ready in about 19 minutes at 190deg, the top one is the savoury version, you can seen small pieces of Sobrasada speckled on the surface. The Gazpacho was probably the easiest dish we made, assemble the ingredients and whizz in a blender. Adding Melon was unusual but it was not long before we sat done and started tasting, chatting and talking about the techniques we had learnt and discussing food in general.The Gazpacho was delicious, it was quite hot in the cookery school so a cool refreshing slightly sweet starter did the job perfectly. Bomba Rice is very picky, you HAVE to get the timings correct otherwise you end up with over cooked grains that are like sludge. Shortly after finishing our starter the Arroz Melosos De Seta was ready for the final ingredient to be added, Salt Cod. This only needed a few minutes and we were ready to serve.You can see the slightly ‘sloppy’ nature of the dish in the picture above. It is supposed to be like this, wetter than a Risotto it did taste subtle and was also delicious, the Paprika creating warmth and smokiness, the mushrooms meatiness and the Rice had textures but probably not the al dente described in Italian Cuisine, it was slightly beyond that stage.Once the Ensaidmada is cooked both versions are given a good coating of Icing sugar. The savoury version might be considered a bit like the Moroccan Pastilla dish, Pigeon Pie with Cinnamon and Icing Sugar in Filo Pastry, but in this case we are using Sobrasada which is a cured spicy Pork.  It was unusually delicious again, difficult to describe unless you can taste it yourself.

So, another cookery course over, Omar was brilliant and everyone was commenting on how much fun we had, and lots learnt too. These days are hard work but really good fun, for me time to mentally escape from day to day life they provide an environment to learn new skills meet people with similar interests and most important add to the repertoire in the kitchen with dishes from around the world.

A big thank-you to Richard Bertinet who is able to attract some seriously good Chefs who are also good at teaching, these skills do not often come in the same package. A massive thank-you to Omar Allibhoy  who took time out of running a significant business to teach 12 people some skills and techniques you cannot easily learn from a book, if you get the chance to go on a course with Omar, book quickly!

As usual, I paid full price for this course and received no incentive to write this blog, the description above is my personal experience and one I would highly recommend.

 

……………………Until Next Time………….L8ers………………….