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………………….

 

 

Please don’t cut your finger on a Bagel! Musings and Reviews from around the country.

2016-11-30-09-31-37It’s been an interesting few weeks as the year slowly draws to a close, and I have managed to eat in some really good restaurants as my work takes me from Norfolk to Cornwall and back home again to Newbury.

There have been several stand-out experiences that deserve a mention but before I dive into food I need to explain the title of this blog. After several years of ‘umming and arrring’ I decided to invest in some new knives for the kitchen recently, scouring the web and looking at numerous suppliers I finally settled on some 67 Layer Damascus beasts, they were an investment to last me forever but nowhere near as expensive as some of the more popular brands as seen on TV cookery competitions and programmes. Endorsed by Tom Aitken and others, if they were good enough for him then they might be ok!!

I ordered the set, and impressive they were too, stunning with the effect of the layers and nice and sharp… Ouch, within a day of using them I had managed to take the tip of one of my fingers!! It was being careless that did it, with a paring knife too, not even a big shiny cooks knife.

Later that evening I was a bit peckish so sliced a Cinnamon Bagel in half, popped it into the toaster and waited as the aroma’s drifted around the kitchen. As I removed them, one of the edges had become ‘paper sharp’ and next thing I had another small cut, just unbelievable, haven’t cut myself in years and within hours two cuts and one with a ‘BAGEL’!!!!

img_omadqhSo back to the food, in no particular order the 1st award goes to The Bladebone at Chapel Row nr Upper BuckleBerry which is in between Reading and Newbury. We have eaten their 3 times in the last few weeks, and only knew of its existence because of twitter, friends advertising its greatness, and yes, it is VERY good. The last visit was for Sunday lunch, traditional Roast Beef with all the trimmings cooked to perfection. We absolutely loved the way the Veg was served as above, very generous too (and the rest of the food was awesome Richie).

20161117_204700The next dish was a surprise, Satay Chicken & Crab, Vanilla Lime Custard, Spiced Peanuts and Cucumber served at the Seckford Hall Hotel, a 15th Century establishment nr Woodbridge in Norfolk. I was here on business and the Duck Two Ways with Parsnip and White Chocolate Puree and Pickled Blackberries was another standout dish.

20161129_194911Next, it was a trip to ‘Hooked‘ in Truro, Cornwall on another business trip. A taster of Crab Thermidor, Crab & Sweetcorn Chowder and Hand-picked Crab Salad it was just delicious. It’s so nice to have access to such amazing fresh ingredients which with a little care and attention can deliver such amazing results.

20161129_202351Still ‘Hooked’! I was a bit extravagant with the main. I should explain that my employer does not pay for all these meals, I get a small daily subsidy when I am travelling which would cover a typical meal, but I choose to use the opportunity to ‘invest’ my own cash in something a bit more extravagent, in this case 1/2 a Lobster!, Crevettes, Scallops, Frites, home made Tartare Sauce, and a fresh dressed salad.  It was stunning, sweet, perfectly cooked and well worth the investment.

2016-12-01-20-56-50Now for the star performer, not that the others were bad, they were all excellent and I would have no hesitation is recommending them but Isidro’s is something a bit special. Isidro’s is a ‘pop-up’ based out of 16 Bartholomew Street Newbury which used to be the home of ‘brebis’, a family run Michelin quality French Restaurant which has just started a couple of new venture’s, the guest pop-up, and a fine dining establishment that comes to you, in the form of a double decker bus called ‘Nomadic’. Isidro’s is the 1st pop-up guest with ‘Georgian’ food to follow care of Caucasian Spice Box as well as fine French care of the owner Sam more details HERE.

2016-12-01-19-13-51The menu consisted of 5 Courses (well 6 actually, the Filipino spring rolls above were an extra surprise), not rushed, beautifully presented, packed full of flavour and not ‘tuned’ to english tastes (chilli is chilli).

2016-12-01-19-41-20Never had Japanese Gyoza’s before, they were a triumph perfectly cooked, melt in the mouth and just delicious.

2016-12-01-19-20-32The Vietnamese Salad Rolls were just as tasty, one had already been eaten before I remembered to capture the moment, served with a proper Peanut sauce and Nuoc Cham, this food was not out of jars or tins and it just kept coming (but at a nice steady pace).

2016-12-01-20-06-10So, I don’t ‘get’ Sweet Potato, it just seems wrong and is something I steer clear of with a passion. Not tonight as one of the mains was a Sweet Potato Red Thai Curry, damn it was sooooo good. The other main for us meat eaters was KFC (Korean Fried Chicken). Now I have made this myself, a recipe from Judy Joo’s book with Gochujang Sauce, this put mine to shame so I will be speaking to them and gaining some clues as to how they cook theirs, it was brilliant.

2016-12-01-20-49-05Dessert was finally here and we just had enough room to eat it, light, tasty fragrant Pandan, Coconut, Pineapple, Marscapone and Mango Puree, which arrived after I took the picture above.

So a quick tour of several places to eat and they were all damn sooo good, Isidro’s pipped the post though due to the experience, The Bladebone is also standout and should you be in the area check it out, I would advise booking first to avoid disappointment as it does get very busy and you could be unfortunately turned away. It’s a favourite of Chris Tarrant, who lives nearby, he was supping a pint last time we were there!!

Next week I am having lunch with a friend at recently Michelin Star awarded ‘The Woodspeen’ so watch out for a review.

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

A National Treasure Teaches Nose to Tail (or Feather), a Day with Mark Hix (At Bertinets Cookery School)

2016-10-15-14-40-39If you ask anyone who has followed the TV food series ‘Great British Menu” over the years despite the 100’s of great dishes presented to the judging panel consisting of Pru Leith, Oliver Peyton and Matthew Fort, there is probably ONLY ONE dish that everyone remembers, ‘Stargazy Pie’.

This dish was presented in the 2007 series by Mark Hix and went on to win the main course and was joined by another Mark Hix recipe, ‘Perry Jelly with summer fruits and elderberry ice cream’ which won the dessert section of the competition.

These dishes were to form part of a banquet hosted by the British Ambassador to France, ably joined by Richard Corrigan and Sat Bains, both extremely competent and Michelin Star holders!photo-15-10-2016-11-43-54‘Does anyone not eat meet’? started the banter as we took advantage of the Sourdough and Brioche toast prepared by Richard Bertinets’ able team, I was back at the Bertinet Cookery School in Bath for the 5th time, it’s VERY good and the range of different guest Chef’s, convivial nature of the location, and limited number of attendees make for an excellent experience. Mark Hix was our tutor for the day and everyone was bubbling with excitement as to what we were going to cook.

photo-15-10-2016-14-23-26After a demonstration of handling Partridge, removing the legs, taking the crown off, removing the thighbone from the legs and starting a game broth we quickly prepared the ‘Far Breton’, an amazing dessert made with Prunes steeped in spiced Rum, a speciality of Normandy.

I made some of these Prunes over a year ago and they are still in the sealed jar, now I have the basis for a dessert that can be made in minutes and cooked in no time at all, (It was delicious)!

photo-15-10-2016-10-58-41Dessert done, we focussed on the rest of what was going to be a very special lunch for us all. Mark explained his philosophy of using everything in his cooking method, and providing some fascinating facts as to how much produce that could be used to good effect, ends on the scrap heap.

The basis for our Partridge broth was a home made Chicken stock, as you can see above as we prepared the elements of the dish pretty much everything else went in the broth mix, including onion skins (flavour and colour), the Partridge carcass (we were going to roast the crown), the offcuts from the legs, all adding more and more flavour.

photo-15-10-2016-11-43-54Having had the demonstration earlier it was now our turn to prepare the partridge, Mark gave us a quick repeat of the process again and we all set to the task in hand, slicing and cutting within a few minutes we all proudly had our crowns prepared and more flavour in the Broth pot.

photo-15-10-2016-11-18-13Our Roasted Partridge was going to sit on ‘Yorkshire Toast’. You will have to go on the course and hope Mark shows you how to prepare it, think of Bread Sauce fried in breadcrumbs! I now have three of his books and the recipe is not in any of them so I feel kind of honoured to have learnt something that is not mainstream, and tastes seriously good.

photo-15-10-2016-11-18-03No apologies for some of the pictures, all the processes we went through ensured we wasted nothing and continually added flavour as much as possible. Remember the Partridge legs I mentioned earlier, that we removed and took out the thigh bone. They needed poaching for about 15 minutes so they also went into the Broth pot. They were then going into a mixture of Buttermilk and spices before being floured and frying to crisp up.

photo-15-10-2016-11-55-55There is always a break or two during the cookery school sessions, and the ‘Bertinet Girls’ produce some amazing delights to whet the tastebuds. As these beauties came out the oven the room filled with the smell of chocolate and fudge, and as we drank Coffee and Tea they were demolished in minutes!photo-15-10-2016-11-39-06The Partridge legs cooked and dried, then got the Buttermilk treatment with some added spices. The legs are often ignored or wasted, we were going to have them as a tasty snack, dipped in a Membrillo sauce which we made later in the session.

Throughout the day we chatted to each other and asked Mark (and Richard) questions about food, their philosophy and they also volunteered anecdotes about their life experiences, which just made the event even more fascinating. These guys have been in the industry a long time and have so much experience and knowledge to give anyone who is interested, hints and tips about pretty much anything food related.

photo-15-10-2016-11-53-30Our menu for the day was going to be;

  • Buttermilk Fried Partridge Legs, with Membrillo Sauce
  • Partridge Broth with Woodland Mushrooms
  • Roast Partridge on ‘Yorkshire Toast’ with Elderberries
  • Far Breton

Once we were happy with the seasoning of the Broth we prepared a ‘garnish’ which would add more flavour and texture to the dish, Wild Mushroom, Celery and Sea Purslane.photo-15-10-2016-13-01-51I didn’t manage to get a ‘pretty’ picture of the Partridge legs as they were gone in seconds, Richard fried them and presented them ‘chef style’ on a plate. Dipped in the Membrillo sauce they were absolutely delish, washed down with some wine which started to flow for those that wanted as we neared dinner.

photo-15-10-2016-13-33-49As we finished the various courses, the table was prepared for lunch by Richards’ team. He epitomises a ‘convivial’ lunch, long table, wine, and the result is a party like atmosphere despite the fact we had all been on our feet for several hours, listening intently to Marks wisdom as we prepared our gourmet menu.photo-15-10-2016-13-39-23The Partridge broth was completed by adding the ‘garnish’ and served by the lovely team that support Richard, Fionn and Co., who work tirelessly making coffee and tea, cakes and helping clear up and making the day go so smoothly. It was just amazing, full of flavour, texture from the Mushrooms and Celery, and supported by lots of fresh homemade Bertinet bread.

photo-15-10-2016-13-59-04Next was the Partridge on ‘Yorkshire Toast’ with Elderberries. At the start of the day we had a debate on whether Game was popular with the students, several found Game Ok, some not so keen and part of the experience was to prove that when cooked properly, it was delightful.  Guess what? It was Bl@@dy delicious both succulent and tender, lovely flavour and enhanced by the Yorkshire Toast and Elderberries, we all complemented the Chefs in the kitchen and patted ourselves on the back, the party was in full swing.

photo-15-10-2016-14-23-26The dessert, was simple but complex at the same time, the Prunes exploded with flavour, the soft brulee like batter melting in the mouth.

So another really successful trip to the Bertinet Cookery School, met and learnt from a legend, Mark Hix, learnt so much again and now looking forward to my next trip, watch the blog for the review early in 2017.

Just to be clear, I paid full price for this course and received no incentives to write this blog. It’s my own reflection of an amazing day with a great bunch of people. I left full, with a massive smile on my face, 2 more of Mark’s books which he kindly signed, and a pack of L’hirondelle live yeast which I learnt to use at the Bread making course I did a while back.

If there is one cookery school in the UK that I would give top marks, Bertinets gets 10/10 (again). Thanks Mark and Richard and the team for a fabulous day.

 

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

 

Fish & Crustaceans – Another Amazing Week in Gramont

File 25-06-2016, 09 47 18The stunning Lot-et-Garonne region sits in the South West of France and is home to the Gascony Cookery School based in Gramont, run by David and Vikki Chance, and Bernard Corbière. The school runs from ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ chambre d’hote, the French equivalent of a Bed and Breakfast and ‘Le Petit Feuillant’ Auberge, the excellent traditional restaurant run by Bernard.

I had received an email in November 2015, “we are happy to announce that the Gascony Cookery School’s new Fish and Crustacean Course……..”, with only 8 places and two filled I booked straight away. The school is very familiar to me, having attended a course in 2014 and remembering a fantastic time, It was difficult to count down the months until the day came to depart.20160621_111855There is a SERIOUS amount of cooking on this course and it is excellent value for money, preparing and eating local French traditional cuisine, three courses, with local cheese and copious quantities of wine to wash things down twice a day, and don’t forget the breakfast, you don’t go hungry.

A trip to a local market to buy produce for the meals cooked is part of the experience, armed with a shopping list, basket and some euro’s you wander to select the various fresh vegetables and herbs which you use later in the week. A surprise trip to a fantastic vineyard, with an impromptu picnic with stunning scenery finishes off the week, so the experience envelops and immerses you in French country life.20160621_152005There were 8 of us on the course, here we have left to right Julia (From Tasmania!), Elena and her mum Judith, David (the chef/host) and John, in the kitchen were two friends from St. Petersburg (Russia), the attendees come from all over the world, in this case everyone but Elena had attended at least one previous course, some more than one which demonstrates how good the Gascony Cookery School really is. This was a session on gutting, de-scaling and filleting fish, we were all very comfortable and confident by the end of the week.20160622_123937We had a comprehensive agenda starting most days with breakfast at 8:30, and cooking starting at 9:00. The times are really important, there was a lot to get through and we could not afford to get behind as we would not have anything to eat.

Everyone mucks in and helps with clearing down as each dish is finished and the next started. Examples on the menu included Mussell Soup with infused Saffron, Lobster a l’americaine, Scallop Quenelles in Chicken Consommé (yes, we made a Consommé from scratch), Rillettes Of Trout, Bouillabaisse………etc. For desserts our efforts included Millefeuille aux Pommes, Pièce Montée (aka Croquembouche), Almond & Orange Cake (which was so so good) we made about 18 different dishes in total, so you learn ‘A LOT’ of techniques and processes!20160620_131400-1 (1)So would I recommend this school, hell yeah it’s awesome. My second visit was just like the 1st which is difficult to describe as you HAVE to experience it for yourself. Just to be clear, I paid full price and have received no incentives for this review, it’s me, what I think and as good as a description of the experience I can give.20160622_081928The scenery is stunning, the weather was good enough to eat outside several times peaking at 41 deg on one day. It’s a trip for people who want to learn, definitely not one for lazing around so it takes your mind away from the thought of work and within a day, I could not tell you what day it was. The hosts David, Vikki and Bernard make you so welcome it really is like being part of an extended family!20160620_162012A course like this needs excellent ingredients, seafood HAS to be fresh and ours was no exception. The planning that goes into ensuring the right products are available is not easy, especially when the school location is in the middle of nowhere!

We had the most amazing Lobster (alive) and Crab (also alive), the rest of the fish was the same (but not alive!!) with bright eyes and beautiful red gills so the resultant dishes were just sublime. There was no ‘sharing’ of ingredients, it was a Lobster each, a Sea Bass each, a Red Mullet each so we all got the chance to learn and practise the gutting, de-scaling, and filleting several times gaining more and more confidence each time.20160622_125022-1It was not just about preparing Fish and Crustaceans, the stunning Crab Tart required a very delicate ‘Pâte Brisée’, a REALLY short pastry which had to be chilled for a couple of days and was an absolute challenge to get into the tart tin, it was well worth it, the results were outstanding. 20160621_215945Just as difficult, I think even more so was the ‘Pâte Sablée’, a sweet version for the Walnut and Honey tart we made, it was very crumbly and needed a lot of work to line the tart tin properly but the the end result made it well worth it. Add to that making proper multi layered stocks and prepping veg it’s full on at the Gascony Cookery School but really good fun.

If you like cooking and fancy doing something a bit different point you browser at http://www.gasconcook.co.uk as I did, I will be returning in the future as they also do an advanced week which I have not done yet, and a shorter charcuterie course too.

It’s a fantastic experience, you will learn loads and make new friends with a common interest so give it a go, you will not be disappointed with amazing hosts David, Vikki and Bernard.

 

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

 

 

 

Nasi Goreng, Testing Steenbergs Spice Blend – (Awesome)

WP_20150606_17_56_50_ProAs you will notice I tend not to use spice blends or ready made sauces in my cooking, there are a few exceptions such as رأس الحانوت (Ras el Hanout), which is a North African version of Garam Masala as used in Indian cuisine, and the recent use of the award winning Mums Masala Sauce which was very good and well worth the venture.

Before my recent break abroad, I received a parcel in the post from the lovely people at Steenbergs. I have had the pleasure of meeting Sophie and Axel the owners, and toured their premises as part of a review a while back, so some sample testers with the opportunity to provide feedback was an offer I could not resist. My first ‘test’ is a Spice blend for Nasi Goreng, a mix of 8 spices which were nestling in the jar below (obviously the picture is after the cooking!!).

WP_20150607_11_29_09_ProYou may recall a Delia Smith series when she ‘cheated’ making some typical dishes but using some shortcuts to reduce the time in the kitchen, well this is my version of ‘Cheats’ Nasi Goreng, otherwise known as Indonesian Fried Rice.

The shortcuts make use of pre-prepared rice (I used Basmati), some Fried Onions I had picked up at my oriental supermarket earlier in the week, (they were an epiphany and I think I will be using them more often), and the Nasi Goreng Spice mix.

Having done some research on Nasi Goreng there were some other ingredients I would need to use in order to add some authenticity, (I am not saying the spice blend was not authentic, far from it), but traditional Nasi Goreng contains at least one more key ingredient, Kecap Manis (Indonesian Soy Sauce).

WP_20150607_10_52_32_ProKecap Manis has the addition of Palm Sugar, and has been featured before on my blog, in dishes such as Babi Kecap. It is thick and gloopy and was the only other ingredient that would be cooked with the Rice and Spices, well expect for some spring onions, cut at an angle!!

So for this dish, for two hungry people you will need.

  • 2 Packets Pre-prepared Rice
  • 1 Large Chicken Breast (or any other protein you fancy) cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 Lemon Grass Stalk
  • 2 Inches Galangal
  • 2 Cloves garlic
  • 10 grms Steenbergs Nasi Goreng Spice Blend
  • 6 Birds Eye Chilli’s (seeds removed and chopped very finely)
  • 1 Bunch Coriander (Chopped Finely)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 small cup (approx.) Crispy Fried Onions
  • 3 Spring Onions, cut at an angle
  • 1 Lime (used as a condiment in the finished dish)
  • 2 Tbls (approx.) Kecap Manis
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

WP_20150606_19_31_59_ProThe Chicken needs marinading in the Galangal, Garlic and 1/2 the Birds Eye Chilli (3), and the Lemongrass, chop everything as small as you can and add along with 1/4 of the Kecap manis, stir and put aside whilst you prepare the other ingredients.

WP_20150606_19_42_35_ProNasi Goreng usually (always), has an Egg component. Rick Stein added a Fried Egg to his version of the dish, I was going to adopt a different approach and make a ‘Coriander’ Omelette, with some Birds Eye Chilli’s to add some spice.

Take your 2 Eggs and whisk, adding a really good hand full (check the picture above, you want lots), of chopped Coriander, add Salt to Season and the remainder of finely chopped birds eye Chilli’s (3). So the result was not too greasy, I put some oil in to a frying pan, and then wiped it with kitchen paper just to leave a thin layer. Use a medium heat as you don’t want to overcook the Omelette, flip and then cut into small squares about 1 c.m. as you can see in the picture above, next to the Spring Onions with the Nasi Goreng mix looking impatient!!

WP_20150606_19_53_13_ProIn order to ‘taste test’ the Steenbergs spice blend I needed to separate the cooking stages, the marinated Chicken cooked in one pan, whilst the impatient Spice Blend got added to the Basmati Rice, with the Spring Onion (another texture component), the Chicken should be cooked in 2 – 3 minutes, whilst the Rice is getting its treat in the other pan.

WP_20150606_19_54_22_ProAdd the remaining Kecap Manis to the Rice and mix well, remember we want to preserve as best we can, the different flavours elements to get the most out of this dish.

Halfway through cooking the Chicken I used an Egg Slice to half the Chicken pieces, giving them a final 30 seconds to 1 minute to finish. You don’t want to overdo this stage, the Chicken should be soft and moist, not dry and chewy.

There are some further garnishes you can add to the finished dish, Sliced Cucumber, and the same of Tomato. I had some speciality ‘Kumato‘ variety from the Isle Of Wight, and some Organic from Riverford, use the best you can get as it adds even more interest to this flavourful medley.

WP_20150606_19_57_05_ProAlmost done now, this dish is actually very quick to put together.

The cooked Chicken is added to the Rice at the last minute, the Coriander Omelette added, and everything ‘gently’ combined, you don’t want to mix the flavours together, the Chicken will have some spice and pungency, the Rice, flavoured with the spice blend and Kecap Manis will have its own flavour profile. The Omelette adding its own to the dish, with more hits of Chilli and the fragrant Coriander.

WP_20150606_20_02_50_ProWhen plating up, you can arrange the Cucumber Overlaying the Tomato (or Vice Versa!), the Kumato variety are the darker slices, then sprinkle the fried crispy Onion over the top and add a wedge of Lime to season as you like.

So, my verdict on the Nasi Goreng spice blend provided by Steenbergs, absolutely amazing. As with their Ras el Hanout which I use lots of, each component is blended separately so not only do you get taste and flavour, you get texture as well.

As I said from the outset, I am not a fan of spice blends but this one WILL be added to my next Steenbergs order. The speed at which the Nasi Goreng was produced, along with the really lovely flavour which resulted is well worth the investment.

If you want to try some and have a go at the recipe above then look HERE

Thanks to Sophie and Axel for the sample, now onto the Organic Lemon Oil.

Until next time…………………L8ers

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 5)

FHP Days last few days 043I made this; yep really did, honest, it’s really not too difficult, well it’s not easy either but with a decent Chef guiding you along the way its something anyone can do, with a bit of practice……Oh, and my new good foodie friends Caroline, Sue and Hai Lin, we were having so much fun, cooking, joking and laughing together like a bunch of naught school children. I was the only ‘bloke’ on the cooking course, Carolines’ husband Gerrard was staying in the house with us and took time out to visit some of the local highlights whilst we were cooking, joining us for meals and some of the outings.

It’s a shame that the saying, ‘all good things come to an end’ was true in the case of my Gourmet Explorer Experience, at the amazing French House Party.

In case any of you are wondering, I paid the full price, and the single supplement, the only discount was a few quid I got of the BA flight as I had some Avios points to cash in, so my opinion is based on a considerable financial investment out of my very hard earned money.

Was it a worthwhile investment, HELL YEAH……………

FHP Days last few days 003We were back in the kitchen with Jean-Marc on the last day of cooking and as ever, the level of learning was intense. First job was to make the ‘Choux’ pastry, something I had never done before and it was very hard work indeed, breaking into a small sweat as the Flour and Eggs had the life beaten out of them!!

IMG_0241We started the prep for the Choux Swans first, good job as the various stages involved took some time. Make Choux, find piping bag, can’t find nozzle, improvise, pipe wings (profiterole above, cut in half), pipe bodies, bit like a snail, then make a small piping bag out of grease proof paper and do the necks, then cook until golden and crispy.

IMG_0234Please excuse me whilst I go off on a tangent briefly. Earlier in the week you make recall the Lobster Ravioli we made, the garnish for this was a Lobster Claw and some of the meat chopped finely which had been baked in the oven. We had forgotten it during the excitement of plating up and discovered the tray in the oven when it was too late. So to improvise, we ‘knocked up an amuse bouche’ using the remainder of the creamy lobster sauce and filling some small shot glasses adding some shaved Romanesco for texture and some herb for colour contrast and fresh flavour.

IMG_0244That Jean-Marc fellow is a clever chap and thoroughly decent bloke (as was Robert Abraham in fact), taking Cream of Broccoli Soup to a planet way beyond our solar system.

I tolerate Broccoli, it’s not one of my favourite vegetables but the Creme froide de Broccoli aux moules croustillantes’ was simply outstanding. Whats that I hear you ask, Broccoli Soup with Crispy Mussels. Whats happens at FHP (French House Party) stays at FHP and we learnt a couple of Chef’s tricks to make this dish seriously amazing, so to learn what, you will have to go for yourself.

IMG_0245If, like me, after seeing all this food you are starting to feel a bit full believe me, you should be in my shoes 😉 I’ve never eaten so much SERIOUSLY GOOD FOOD, day after day…….Stuffed is an understatement, with a considerable sense of achievement and I have learnt so much, my cooking confidence has taken a serious shift upwards which makes me feel really good inside.FHP Days last few days 012Today’s main course was really interesting, you can see it in the place setting above before it was devoured by ‘moi’, Gambas roties a l’estragon.

You need some 6/9 calibre Gambas, seriously you do, I believe it maybe a size thing so go for some decent sized Tiger Prawns and that’s about the size we were using.

The potatoes in the pan above were ‘turned’ and stuffed with………..Rhubarb. Yes you read correctly they were quite delicious and a massive surprise, we all thought they would just not work, they did. A rich sauce accompanied the Gambas, with a good glug of Ricard to provide a further hint of Aniseed, (I bought a Litre at Toulouse airport, purely for cooking purposes you understand)!

FHP Days last few days 013I have decided that I will let you into a minor secret tip, its not too secret so I am hopeful my friends and those at FHP will forgive me this one indulgence. Caroline did not get her fingers burnt above whilst cooking this dish, there was more risk from the Mandolin we had to use in order to get very thin potatoes, which sandwiched a couple of Tarragon leaves before being fried in Oil (Or clarified butter for a more golden, and richer flavour). Oops, that’s it, the crispy Tarragon potatoes which were also served with the prawns.

FHP Days last few days 044After lunch we were whisked off to Domaine Gayda, situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees it’s a relatively young winery built in 2004. Dedicated to organic farming methods, Gayda has achieved certification for its ‘Figure Libre’ range and uses traditional hand-picking methods ensuring the highest quality product through focused care, and considerable attention to detail.

IMG_0247The place was spotlessly clean, evening after we had walked through the above area and to the left, where the barrels were ‘sleeping’ the floor was hosed to ensure no ‘nasties’ had crept in on our feet. It would have been rude not to taste some of the wines, we worked our way through 4 or 5 different varieties (I suspect it might have been more).

I decided to invest (it was a quick decision) in a couple of bottles, one being a VERY special late harvest dessert wine, made from three separate grape pickings. Only 3000 bottles have been produced, it was bottled in Jan 2014, from grapes picked on one date in September 2011, and two dates in October 2011, its very special indeed (and delicious).

IMG_0258This year is a BIG year for me, that magical age of 50 is racing towards me and to celebrate, a table at Raymond Blancs’ Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons has already been booked, enticed by the experience of 2 Michelin stars, something I have yet to explore…that is until FHP!

OMG, the itinerary had stated that we were to visit a couple of local eateries whilst on the Gourmet Explorer, but the 2 Michelin Starred La table Franck Putelat in Carcassonne was COMPLETELY unexpected.

IMG_0262The first amuse bouche came out on the ceramic log above, delightful macaroons, filled with a Foie Gras cream, blindingly delicious, little delicate fish balls, with a paper thin crispy coating and intense seafood jellies, on a crisp wafer it was definitely fine dinning. Followed by a beautiful Asparagus Soup, with an Aspic foam and Hazlenut Oil.  AWESOME…….

IMG_0264The first course was a mixture of White and Green Asparagus, with an amazing sauce and poached egg, with textures from local ham.

IMG_0269The main was OUTSTANDING, Pyrenees Lamb head to heart, with Boudin Noir (black pudding), peas and sauce……..and the dessert.

IMG_0271Rhubard, Bergamont leaves, Semolina Cake and Kumquat Sorbet……….Stuffed 😉

FHP Day 1 and 2 005So there we have it, the Gourmet Explorer care of the Award Winning French House Party, a massive thanks to Moira, Robert, Jean-Marc, Regine and Emma for such an amazing time, it should be on your list of top things to do, but be quick as its very popular.

……….Until next time……………………..L8ers

(Oops, in my haste I forgot to mention Andy. Part of the all-inclusive nature of FHP here there is a chauffeur service incuded to collect you from either Toulouse Airport or Carcassonne.  Andy is another member of the team who might collect you, an also take you to one of the restaurants and get you safely back to base, MANY thanks Andy)

 

 

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 4) part deux

FHP Day 4 028Today’s cooking was ‘intense’, I mean that in a positive way as we must have been in the kitchen for about 6 hours, priceless when you have a Michelin starred Chef on hand to tutor and guide you through the most delicious (and visually stunning) dishes.

FHP Day 4 011Take one Monkfish, head removed and do your ‘thing’ with a sharp filleting knife, we set to work preparing our next dish, Medallions of Monkfish with Saffron.

Sounds simple from the description but the reality was completely different! Removing skin, discarding scrappy bits and prepping two beautiful fillets, learning more knife skills on the way it was a great experience.

FHP Day 4 001The Monkfish was to be served with seasonal vegetables (Fennel, Spring Onions, Broad Beans, Carrots and Artichokes) and a rich sauce, enhanced with some Garlic, Squid Ink and Olive Oil which you can just see in the top picture, it tasted sublime.

FHP Day 4 020The starter we prepared is well worth a mention as it required the use of ‘whipping’ cream, which you may recall was going to be a challenge. Bavarois de poivrons doux sour coulis de tomates acidulées, impressive to say the least, a dish of Pepper and Tomato which was very light but absolutely packed with flavour and tasted delish.

This was one of those occasions where we had to slightly adjust the menu, the cream we had would not whip so the use of a small amount of Gelatine was required to get the Pepper Bavarois to the right consistency for ‘quenelleing’.

IMG_0238Mille-feuille translated means a thousand leaves, and I’ve always fancied a go but never got round to it, until now!

Puff Pastry layered with ‘Crème Pâtissière’ it was surprisingly straight forward to do, and has got me thinking about how I could use the Jelly making technique we learnt in the Salmon Tartare dish on the 2nd day with Robert, to create a  dessert layered with fruit flavoured Jelly and Crème Pât, watch the blog for my experiments on this.

We settled down for the evening and chatted over cheese and wine, in fact that was the routine most evenings when we were not out and about in nice restaurants. Its true to say we did eat quite a lot of cheese, and very nice it was too.

Another day beckons tomorrow and more fun in the kitchen, along with another tour, this time a Vineyard.

 

………………Until next time…………L8ers……….

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 4)

FHP Day 2 and 3 151Here is a little starter I ‘knocked up’! We were now in the realms of Michelin Star’s, Jean-Marc was really serious about his food (I am not saying Robert was not, Jean-Marc was just a little more intense). We started to work on our first starter, simply described as Spring Vegetable Vol au Vents, yeah right!

FHP Day 2 and 3 128We were all inspired by the way simple vegetables and puff pastry were taken to a level beyond very good. This ‘simple’ dish did take a lot of work, carefully preparing the vegetables, slicing the puff pastry we learnt some new tricks and techniques, (go on the course to find out what!).

Something that became very evident as we ploughed through the lovely recipe book we were presented with on arrival, the quality of the ingredients was exceptional, no expense spared, and the Chefs was of the highest calibre. I also noticed on a couple of occasions where we drifted slightly away from the supplied recipes, having to adjust as something was not available or drifting as it felt right.

FHP Day 2 and 3 133Having prepared the starter it was time to make some Pasta dough for Lobster Ravioli.   Mmmmmmmmmmm

I learn’t the ‘by hand’ technique in Puglia a couple of years ago on another cooking course, 00 flour is difficult to get in some parts of France so we just used normal flour, and it worked really well. The Kenwood mixer with dough hook did the ‘grunt’ and the pasta machine finished the job really well.

FHP Day 2 and 3 136The pasta dough was filled with a decent amount of the Lobster meat, which had been boiled for about 3-4 minutes in a pot of boiling water.

We used the carcass of the Lobster to make a rich sauce, that recipe is a secret, the whole dish tasted so delicious but was very light. In this part of France they seem to use Cream more than butter to enrich sauces, which brings me onto another observation, its near on impossible to find whipping Cream, i.e. Cream containing more than 30% butterfat, as we were to find out later in the week.

FHP Day 2 and 3 162Last dish was a ‘simple’ dessert of Chocolate Cups filled with home made Vanilla Ice Cream and served with macerated strawberries.

FHP Day 2 and 3 168We learn’t lots of new skills and techniques as we prepared our first meal with Jean-Marc, he was well humored and we had great fun working out what he was saying (his English is work in progress, but better than my French). A couple of the ladies on the course speak fluent French, but Jean-Marc was always prepared to try English first so the rest of us could understand.

Next time we step into the world of Bavarois.

……………………Until then……………..L8ers….

 

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 3) Part Deux

FHP Day 2 and 3 078I was thinking about popping out to ‘le boulangerie’ for a Pain d’Epi but that isn’t going to happen, I am back in the UK but at least the sun has briefly shown itself, the next best thing (and its very good), is a Richard Bertinet loaf which is available from some Waitrose stores, if you live in the South West (ish).

Continuing on with the ‘adventure’ in Gastronomy, we headed off to Bize-Minervois to visit a very special place, ‘LOulibo‘. 

L’Oulibo is an Olive producing co-operative and whilst France only produces a very small quantity of Olive’s and Oil,  L’Oulibo produces the VERY best.

FHP Day 2 and 3 052We were treated to a really interesting tour by an extremely knowledgeable young lady who explained how the co-operative worked, the history of the Olive and the end to end process. The best Olives to eat are known as Lucques, which are a green variety and quite sweet.

I will be honest at this point, I LOVE Olive oil but cannot get my taste buds to appreciate Olive’s, I did bring a jar back though as we did use them in one of the recipes during the course!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 054We ended the tour with a really interesting video, and then a visit to the shop to purchase some produce. Along with the Lucques Olives I did get a jar of Olive and Tomato Tapenade, we had eaten some as an ‘Hors d’oeuvre‘ spread on crispy bread, the previous day.

The menu at the top of the post is for La Marquière, which was our final destination after a stroll around ‘Carcassonne‘, the famous medieval city.

FHP Day 2 and 3 060Carcassonne reminded me of Tallin in Estonia, conical turrets a’top long cylinders of stone, hewn by simple tools and medieval grunt!

Sorry about that, had a bit of a moment as Carcassonne is such a magical place, as are the many restaurants spread around the city walls, and inside the protective shroud of stone.

So, what can I say about La Marquière, EAT THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 107First one of the ‘Amuse- bouche‘, Foie Gras, with Gingerbread and and a thin layer of jelly, it was AMAZING………

FHP Day 2 and 3 108Next was local bread, with home made ‘Charcuterie and a lovely spread with plenty of garlic and a soft goats cheese, it was bl@@dy delicious.

FHP Day 2 and 3 110Next was the Foie Gras, sorry, I do love the stuff and when its done well, it’s very good (if you like this sort of thing), it was VERY good and had been prepared with a local Muscat wine an served with two ‘chutneys’, Fig and Onion and Brioche bread.

FHP Day 2 and 3 112For my ‘Plat’, main course in French I went for the Médaillons de Lotte en cocotte, coulis de Crustacés, petits Légumes et pommes vapeur.  Monkfish, Shellfish sauce and Veg!! its was beautifully, subtle, rich and really tasty.

FHP Day 2 and 3 109It would be rude not to have a glass of wine or two when n France, our treat was a 2010 Château du Donjon. Very deep crimson in color, with some toasty aromas from oak ageing, it delivers ripe fruit, vanilla and chocolate aromas, It is full and generous on the palate with a long, powerful finish supported by soft tannin’s. Yeah, it was Awesome……….

IMG_0225I had to order my dessert when I selected my starter and main, I was going for something a bit theatrical a Sphère de chocolat noir de Valrhona, mousse Mascarpone et Girottes. Warm Chocolate Sauce was poured by the waitress and…………. it slowly melts the top of the sphere. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

FHP Day 2 and 3 111Service was spot on, as was the food. This is a family run restaurant, and was lovely and cosy, un-fussy with impeccable food. If ever you are in Carcassonne and looking for somewhere to eat this place comes HIGHLY recommended.

FHP Day 2 and 3 128We had an amazing time learning from Robert Abraham, our first ‘chef d’excellence’ and Midi-Pyrenees Chef of the year as one of his many accolades.

Our next Chef (above) was to be Jean-Marc Boyer, a Paris trained Michelin star Chef, and named as one of the worlds up and coming chefs ‘to look out for’ by world renowned chef, writer and restaurateur Daniel Boulud who runs Le Cirque in New York, considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world…… No pressure then!!!

………………Until next time……………….L8ers……

 

 

 

The French House Party – A culinary adventure to France (Day 3)

FHP Day 2 and 3 037This post is being authored as I have to depart back to England, goodbyes have been said to all the other guests, the course is finished and as you can tell, I am a few days behind with updates on how things are going. My flight does not depart till later this afternoon so  I have some time free to ‘chillax’, and reflect on what has been a truly amazing experience, and much needed break from daily life back at home.

One of the reasons for booking this course, apart from learning from 2 awesome chefs and meeting some lovely people, was the chance for a brief visit to the medieval city of Carcassonne, a recce for a future trip planned with the family. More about that later.

FHP Day 2 and 3 049Today we have definitely stepped it up a couple of gears as you can see by the pictures above. These two dishes we created on Sunday morning, along with a ‘stonking’ Chocolate Fondant, believe me, it was spot on……

I’ve never used Agar Agar before, but the thought of making an Orange Jelly from scratch, topped with a Salmon Tartare, and then being able to present it, in a way that was going to be appealing seemed an impossible task!

FHP Day 2 and 3 025All the longer cookery vacations I  have been on follow a similar pattern, discuss the menu first, you are then given a task to complete by the Chef, if you finish you can help one of your colleagues with another task, then come together at the end to learn plating  techniques to make everything look pretty.

As usual, if you want to know how we accomplished the dish above (which was bl@@dy good), book the course and come yourself, although you will probably have to wait until next year, these courses are VERY popular.

FHP Day 2 and 3 014The main course was a Dourade (Black Bream from memory), served with a Spinach and Basil puree, and delicious Artichokes. You guessed it, prepping the fish from scratch and trying to create beautiful looking fillets was the order of the day.

It was the same with the Artichokes, I’ve only eaten them a couple of times, stuffed hearts in Egypt many years ago, and steamed with a Dijon mustard dressing on the cookery course last year. Now we were going to learn another technique and the end result was well worth it. I now feel very confident in ‘le’s art d’artichoke’ !!!!

FHP Day 2 and 3 097Two other highlights of our trip were the chance to eat out at a couple of very good restaurants. Both were in Carcassonne, the first was Restaurant La Marquière a beautiful place to taste amazing food overlooking La Cité de Carcassonne, the second was the two Michelin starred ‘la table de Franck Putelat’

Franck used to work at another famous Carcassonne restaurant la barbacane, which is within the city walls and has one Michelin star, so his pedigree is VERY good.

Talking of Carcassonne, the picture above is in the City at the side of the la barbacane, the chefs taking a quick break before service.

Have to dash for the airport now, watch out for next post.

Until next time………..L8ers……………………..