Restaurant S Comme – An Experience at Château de Palaga

Everyone has been busy in the kitchen and probably put on the odd ounce, the Chocolate cake above is a multi layer affair, I produced the first, coco-pops with added tempered chocolate, mixed and formed into a circular crispy base (not as simple as it sounds), then a layer of piped Chocolate ‘cream’ as glue, a flourless (ish) cake and more piping with some hazelnuts to dress, it was rich and decadent.

Today has been intense and I did warn them about Jean-Marc, he has a Michelin Star, is beyond professional and probably one of the the nicest people you could ever meet! Actually my new Irish friends loved him, he is an amazing guy, very calm, extremely patient and whilst first impressions may have you wondering, after a while you get where he is coming from and everything falls naturally into place.

It’s actually midnight, I have a bottle of Corbières 2018 open and the excitement and adrenalin of the last few days is rushing through my veins. We have a lie in tomorrow but that seems to pass me by, birds are very active singing their hearts out from about 04:30, it’s beautiful and melodic, rhythms echoing from tree to branch to bush, mesmerising and strangely calming.

As usual I won’t provide a running commentary of my trip as I would rather you come and experience it first hand, I know what you are missing as do my new friends. We have turned into food analysts, critics, judges, discussing how we might change, tweak adjust certain recipes to suit our own styles and preferences.

With that in mind, another one of our evening excursions was to a brilliant little restaurant called ‘S Comme’ in the village of Palaja which is a short distance from Carcassonne. On the way there, our driver Neil was able to stop at one of the best viewpoints of the Citadel and I was able to capture its ‘atmosphere’, a delightful view (above) which really underestimates the impressive structure in all its glory. The atmosphere at the restaurant was calming, the food delicious and very unassuming, the two Belgium’s that cook, take the orders and serve did an amazing job of explaining the menus and producing stunning plates of mouth watering fare. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the area

I fell in love with Carcassonne on my 1st trip, not just ‘La Cité’, the medieval citadel of the fortified city which is stunning, but its rich and generous surrounds, and reaching further out to the ancient and historic region of Gascony and its many castles, rolling countryside and attractive villages and market towns. And without forgetting Domaine St Raymond, the base of The French House Party, with its elegance and stunning sunsets.

Time for a cuppa, it’s 07:30. I did get some sleep and now look forward to a morning of chocolates.

……………….Until next time…………L8ers………..

4 Dinners & 1 Lunch – Eating Padstow!

Padstow has a certain charm as I was finding out, day boats both moored whilst mariners caught up on sleep or spending time with loved ones, and others getting ready to set sail while the tide was rising during the flow seemed to set the pace, with all the supporting actors doing their bit.

I had planned this trip in March, 8 months prior and only a week before the event started COVID was to strike a minor blow to my plans, an email in my inbox unfortunately cancelling my reservation due to both staff availability and safety, quite understandable under the circumstances but I had read comments on TripAdvisor being quite vitreolic towards restaurants as if they should remain open under any condition, I can imagine really upsetting to the proprietors under the circumstances and also to me.

I had selected and booked a series of restaurants and now I was having to try and find a reservation last minute, and knowing and hearing how quickly staycations were being booked I was not that hopefull, but luckily I managed to get a table at Paul Ainsworths’ Caffè Rojano, you can read about its history here.

On arrival I was welcomed to my table by Mauro, my waitress Jade would be over shortly to sort out my order. It was a fun, relaxed and welcoming environment, buzzing with patrons, both local and visiting it felt great. The menu is really good, not too many choices which I prefer as I can take ages to decide, but covering small plates, pasta, meat and fish, with a variety of drinks to tempt.

After a 3 1/2 hour drive, I was not going to tackle a ‘traditional’ larger plate of food, but focussed on the small plates of which there was a really good selection. And rather than go for a bottle of wine, for fun would try and create my own wine flight and pick something for each cuisine.

So, dish No.1 Beech-smoked anchovies with a Cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette & parsley. And the wine choice, a 2020 Cantina di Monteforte, Soave Classico from Italy. I wasn’t sure what to expect but these anchovies were damn good, fat, juicy, rich, not at all salty like you get from you know where, just yum. The Vinaigrette, lemon and parsley cut through the rich flavour and the wine worked well. Mauro came over to enquire what I thought, he was passionate about food and when I enquired as to the origin of the anchovies he got me the supplier name which I now have stored on my iPhone, they were delicious.

Now dish No.2 Ham ‘n’ cheese croquetas using Dehesa Solana Iberian ham, Manchego cheese and thyme. This time the wine choice was 2020 Chardonnay ‘16 Stops’, Adelaide, Australia which worked really well. Another great dish, rich, salty, creamy and delicious. The lovely Jade had arranged for the wine and dishes to come out at approximately 10 min gaps between each course which was fab, it was like a ‘tasting’ menu, relaxed and really enjoyable after a days travelling.

Dish No.3 next, Duroc rib using Iberian pork, PX barbecue glaze, wine choice was a 2018 Rioja Crianza, Bodegas LAN, Rioja Alavesa, Spain. Duroc Pigs have an American heritage, and named after a trotting stallion with the same name. The ribs are renowned to be very tender (if cooked correctly of course), and these were just mighty fine, in fact incredibly so being able to ‘cut’ them with the smooth edge of a spoon, they matched the Rioja very nicely indeed, these meal was going very well indeed.

Jade and Mauro were great hosts, spending time with with me and chatting when time allowed they new their trade well, and accommodating my wishes time wise so the evening was not a all rushed, time to savour each mouth of food, and glug of wine!

Next came the Baked Yukon Gold, a Slow-cooked beef Ragu atop a crispy baked potato with sour cream, parmesan and chives, and I decided to stay with the Rioja to match the rich Ragu. Boy this was very rich, very meaty and packed full of flavour, it matched the Rioja nicely and was a great finish to to the savoury section of the meal, not what to do for dessert.

I often struggle with desserts, not being a ‘sweet’ person and more aimed towards savoury things there was one item that attracted my eye, ‘PX’ served with Bella Luna Pedro Ximenez sweet sherry, curious indeed I ordered one and waited to see what would turn up. So, basically an extremely indulgent salted caramel soft ice cream with a bottle of sweet sherry which you poured over the top, er, yummmmmm. It was a delicious end to a fabulous evening with the supporting act of Mauro who had the passion and energy of a Matador and Jade from Somerset, providing a beautiful service both these characters are a credit to Caffè Rojano.

I had a lovely relaxed evening, the food was amazing, the staff were amazing, and I was stuffed, and the next day I had to indulge in two more restaurants, the 1st one ‘The Mariners’, will be the next post. A special shout out to Senior Sous Chef Sam Bessant who was on the pass the evening I was there, his skill along with the rest of the kitchen brigade produced some fantastic food which I will never forget.

Caffè Rojano comes highly recommended, I paid full price for the meal, no discounts for writing a nice story, it was a great place to eat and seeing how many people were seated I was not alone in that view. Add it to your ‘must do’s’ next time you are heading to Padstow.

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

Two Days at Rick Steins Cookery School

It was earlier this year, March to be exact. Like many people, some less open as me, I had just come through a bought of serious anxiety and depression, sick to the teeth with the company was working for, I needed an escape plan! Historically, I had always had a holiday booked in advance, and usually some sort of foodie adventure. It was to take a while to sort out work, which I have done, feeling like a new person within minutes of getting the job offer, but to keep me going I needed to book an escape before that series of events took shape.

Them the boss at home said, ‘try and find a short cookery holiday, see what you can dig up’, so finger at the keyboard I ‘hit’ on Rick Steins Cookery School in Padstow, fish is my preferred protein over meat (most of the time), so I found a two day course that worked, and also a nice hotel, 2 minutes from the School, perfect, so I booked the 2 Day Fish & Shellfish Course for November which looked ‘fab’!

Hun, I have found something, a two day course, Ju Ju (that’s what she sometime calls me), that’s a long way to go for two days, make it a week and see if you can find some nice places to eat…….. Padstow, nice places to eat, hell yeah!

I left first thing on Monday, I had hired a car as my company car was not ready, I used a local firm rather than one of the well known brands and boy was I pleased I did. A mere £362 (including all the optional extras like collision damager waver etc.) and I was the temporary owner of a BMW M Sport Series 530 EDrive, wow what a motor that was! I had booked a series of restaurants for the week which will feature in separate reviews but the itinerary was Monday – Caffè Rojano, Tuesday Lunch – The Mariners in Rock, Tuesday Evening – Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, Wednesday Evening – St. Petroc Bistro, Thursday Evening – Paul Ainsworth at No.6! I arrived late afternoon and took a wander to get my bearings in Padstow, the restaurants, school were all within a hop, skip and jump of the hotel, perfect.

It was soon Wednesday and after a quick cuppa, I was at the school in minutes. It was very spacious, well laid out with plenty of COVID precautions in operation from individual bacterial hand wash at each station and instructions to wear masks if we went into reception on the way to the toilets. Our Head Tutor for the week was Nick, ably assisted by Arran and the rest of the team, all we had to do was focus on learning and having fun, all the cleaning, ingredients trays, teas’ coffees’ and lots of wine were supplied like magic, there was over 40 years of professional cookery experience available to us and we could ask anything!

There were a mixture of people attending from complete novices, to my newly found friend Graham, who had the station in front of me, and had been a Chef on Naval Submarines for years! I am kind of a really keen cook, amongst the considerable number of courses I have attended over the years, I did a 5 day seafood course in France a while back so understood some of the the basics but there is nothing like practice and spending more time with ‘fish experts’ as these guys really were.

To set the ball rolling (and make our first of several ‘snack’s, it was a grazing kinda day), we were to make a Sliced Salmon with Ponzu and Pink Grapefruit, which was to introduce us to preparing a Sashimi style dish. Nick demonstrated how to prepare a whole salmon and then we got to cut our own ‘steaks’ into appropriately sized slices, whilst the Ponzu dressing we had made rested and developed the distinctive flavours. To add extra interest we also had to finely julienne some daikon radish and deal with nori seaweed, which is more difficult that you think.

Poached Lobster Risotto Anyone? Yes please, well to be honest I had the Lobster Risotto in Nicks famous Seaford Restaurant the night before so it would be really interesting the compare the results! Due to time, the Lobster had been cooked, but we were shown how to tell the difference between Male and Female, had to remove the lobster and head meat from the shell and make the Risotto, a large pot of stock was prepared in front of us to share so we could again, save time on the more laborious tasks which were time consuming but relatively self explanatory.

I was well chuffed with my Lobster Risotto, I have only cooked Risotto 3 times before, once in Italy at a cookery school, the 1st time abroad learning to cook many years ago, the 2nd (a failure to be honest) at home, and then last year on a another Italian themed online (zoom) event which went much much better. I was slowly getting it right, it was very rich and tasty.

Padstow is beautiful, and the school location offers stunning views over the estuary towards ‘Rock’, which I had visited the previous day on the small ferry, great fun indeed. My mind was drifting, I was happy, content, in my personal foodie space and as the day drifted on we learnt more techniques, working with Mussels, Clams, braising fish, emulsions and chowder, it was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, and then we had completed day 1, time to rest for a few hours before eating !!!

Being a working harbour, with fish boats constantly leaving and arriving as the tide allows, and nestling in an estuary the harbour entrance needs constant dredging, as I watched my mind wandered to those brave fisherman who often tackle storm waters to bring us a constant supply of whatever they are allowed to catch or fortunate to find in their nets. Much of what you learn on the course is through questions and conversation, the state of the industry both restaurant and fishing, it SHOULD change your perspective on shopping and eating and cooking especially with what has been happening over the last few years, its priceless value just for that alone.

I believe this was one of the whole school’s favourite dishes! Deep Fried Coconut Prawns with a Papaya Dipping Sauce, jeez it was damn good, and came from Rick Stein’s ‘Road to Mexico Book’. The school was originally setup to help chefs working in Ricks’ restaurants, he is a cook not a chef and as we were told on numerous occasions, examples of choice words when things were too ‘cheffy’ which is not his style at all.

So, onto Madras Fish Curry of Sea Bass tomato and tamarind, we had to deal with filleting and pin-boning a beautiful bass, a lovely fish and definitely one of my favourites. We were shown the technique on the two large overhead screens which everyone could see and made some of the explaining so much easier, ok, lets give it a go.

Not too shabby, haven’t done that for a few year too, after a few minutes grappling with the fish, swift smooth knife action and tugging with some seriously good bone pliers the job was done and all that was needed was a little bit of tidying up.

This dish was another belter, the Madras sauce only taking 10-15 minutes to prepare the combination worked very well, and another ‘snack’ was ready to consume. Before you think I eat a lot, I had not had breakfast since Sunday, and I had not eaten all of the dishes in their entirety, especially as evenings had been 3 course meal events my constitution has its limitations!

Each station has its own professional range, they were great fun to work with, in this case doing the final prep for Malaysian fried Lemon Sole with roasted tomato and chilli sambal, another knockout dish.

So, over the two days we cooked 8 dishes and were treated to 2 cooked by Nick and the team as ‘end of the day relax and wind downs, they were all fantastic to cook and eat, and on the way introduced you to a range of cooking techniques you can easily reproduce at home in a normal kitchen without any specialist equipment, although a small temperature probe for getting the fish ‘on-point’ is probably a small investment worth making, I have one and it does make the different between perfect and ‘bugger, overdone’, they are not expensive.,

So to sum up, apart from having an amazing escape to a beautiful and peaceful part of the UK, free parking in the hotel for a week (The Harbour, through Booking.com), enjoying some great food, I went for the school, and it lived beyond expectations from the booking, follow up calls confirming and details of having my own station/bubble, Nick and the team were fab, Harri on the reception desk welcoming us with a beaming smile each morning it was a brilliant experience and one that will remain with me forever.

Would I go back, bit fat yes, when the diary allows, I already have my twice covid postponed annual trip to one of my two French Cookery Schools booked next year but if can enough spare time, The Rick Stein Cookery School is top of the list.

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

A Mexican Dream – El Pueblito Cookery School, learning to cook Mexican food in Mexico, from a Mexican chef!

So I am in Mexico at the moment, enjoying some sun and culture. Did you know the Mayans invented Bubblegum! Nor did I until yesterday, but as often happens synthetics and mass production take over and what was an organic by product of the Manilkara Chicle tree is now artificial,  and full of all sorts of ‘stuff’.Photo 06-12-2019, 10 27 59Having spent a few hours with the delightful Executive Chef/Tutor Karla Enciso, at the El Pueblito Cookery School at Mayakoba my senses have been kick started, I am now of the firm belief that Mexican food has been much maligned by mass production and marketing by multi-national brands, I am sure you know who I mean.

Being extremely fortunate to be awarded a ‘prize’ for hard graft again, I found myself the holder of a ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Mexico, and this included some spare time to enjoy the resort we are staying at, in between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen on the ‘Riviera Maya’.IMG_1173Mayakoba is a ‘complex’ with a number of hotels, a championship golf course, and a small ‘village’ where the cookery school resides. I had booked 3 hours of 1-2-1 cooking, just me and the lovely Karla.

On arrival a ‘station’ had been prepared for me with various ingredients, and a couple of ‘Molcajete’  which are rough stone pestle and mortar type implements. As I used them it struck me that they were much more effective than the version I had a home, and generally seen available in the U.K., the surface was much rougher due to the use of stone rather than a smoother marble like product.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-35-1.jpgKarla has a couple of assistants that do a very fine job of supporting the session, washing and cleaning and putting together the ingredients for each of the dishes, after a quick cup of coffee which they also supplied on demand, we set to start the first dish, a Green Tomatillo Salsa.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a food processor, set it to maximum ‘whizz’ and pour out some green ‘Kermit sludge’ a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

There IS a skill and element of precision to making Green Tomatillo Salsa properly, its takes time, and a great deal of precision. Yes, you DO whizz, but not after some careful attention to the process, but for that you are going to have to come to Mexico and learn for yourself. Oh, I should mention I personally paid for this course and received no discounts etc. so this is a honest view of what I experienced.IMG_E1191Being a 1-2-1 session we were able to interact a lot and I was frequently asking questions and getting to the ‘why’s’ and ‘where’s’ of each dish which was very interesting. 

One thing that really struck me was the detail around getting to the right taste which you cannot learn from a cookery book. Ingredients are different so one Tomatillo contains more or less water than the next, is riper or less ripe so the flavour can change significantly, this was the ‘magic’ of this session jointly debating more Salt, more Lime, more Chilli, lets add some Black Pepper and the result was really delicious.photo-06-12-2019-10-42-48.jpgSo next was a simple Molcajete Salsa, yeah right. You might recognise the next paragraphs context.

Please bear with me a second, I know we have all seen Chefs on TV ‘whack’ a load of ingredients into a pestle and mortar, smash them to bits and pour out some multi-coloured stuff a few seconds later.

NO, NO, NO, and another NO, it’s not done that way at all!

This time we were going to ‘roast’ the ingredients within various seconds of their individual lives on this planet, why, because we were developing some serious intense smokey pungent flavours and this was the way it should be done.photo-06-12-2019-11-08-33.jpgAt this stage we are about half way through making the Molcajete Salsa, who’s name comes from the Mexican pestle and mortar I was going to use to complete the dish. More notes, another cup of coffee, further debate etc.  As an aside, at the beginning of the session I was asked what music I liked and during our cooking we had RUSH, and Yes playing which being a couple of my favourite groups added to the atmosphere!IMG_1202This Salsa was a massive surprise, it had a deep intense flavour and was something I had never tasted before, when combined with the Guacamole we made next, on top of a thin Tortilla crisp, wow, awesome. I will be definitely making this when I get home.

Having made various important and tasty side dishes we set to work on the Tacos Dorades, and Sopes which involved more techniques for me to learn, which was great.IMG_1177The ‘Masa’ had already been prepared, a dough made from processed corn which is a staple of Mexico and used to make a variety of dishes including ‘Tamales’ which we had last night, 50m down in an amazing ‘cave experience! I will be publishing a separate post on the overall trip with an obvious food focus when I get back to the U.K. next week.IMG_1220If you remember that multi-national comment I made earlier, well I made (pressed) the fresh Masa into Tortillas, they then got a quick fry on both sides before being stuffed with Chicken boiled in Chicken Stock (adds more flavour and keeps the meat moist), and rolled. IMG_1241These are then fried again to crisp up, and topped with whatever you fancy, they were bl@@dy good! I went with the spicy and rich Molcajete Salsa on top of Lettuce and some Cream, and a little Mexican Cheese.IMG_1229Next was ‘Sopes’ these are like shallow cups made using a similar principle, but a bit different! You know where to come to learn how to make them. It was really good fun and having nibbled and munched through Tortillas and the numerous Salsa’s and Guacamole I was ready to sit down for a light lunch, and the Sopes do need eating as soon as possible after they are cooked so that was what we did.

You can see in the pictures above the process of layering re-fried Beans, Chicken, Lettuce etc. into the Masa cup and finishing with a Mexican Cheese called ‘Cotija’.

I have to say that the few hours with Karla went too quickly but I learnt absolutely loads and for the money it was well worth it.

If ever you find yourself anywhere near Mayakoba and fancy a go a authentic Mexican cooking the El Pueblito Cookery School comes highly recommended, the session is long enough to learn loads but to too long that your start to get distracted. Before joining you have a choice of a number of ‘menus’ to pick so there are lots of different techniques available to learn.

 

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

 

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………………………….