Sunday, January 27, 2013

Week Three in Leiths: The Very Hungry Cookery Student.

Last week in Leiths started with a guinea fowl and ended with a treacle sponge. And I started to feel a little like:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

On Tuesday I ate (half) a guinea fowl and realised I need to work on my meat jointing skills before I hack any more defenceless poultry. But I was still hungry.

On Wednesday I ate two courgette boats and discovered a love for turning vegetables. It's a love it or a I-hate-this-so-much-I'd-rather-stick-pins-in-my-eyes thing. Happiness is transforming courgettes into (lopsided) boats and potatoes into (strange) rugby shapes. But I was still hungry.

On Thursday I ate three steamed delights: Steak and kidney pudding, trout parcels and chicken dumplings. Steaming means it's healthy right? And they were all tasting portions. But I was still a bit peckish.

Juicy steak and kidney pudding from our steaming demonstration *

On Friday I ate one halibut with deep fried vegetable ribbons, some kale, chocolate tart, flat ham pie, fruit tart and one treacle sponge. 

Tarts from our French pastry demonstration

On Saturday...I started a detox. Just kidding. 

On Sunday I practised French pastry for next week and made my first pâte sucrée fruit tart. And now I have a stomach ache. But it was definitely worth it. 

French pastry tart

I may have neglected to mention a few items in my week as a very hungry caterpillar cookery student. 

Such as the ice-cream demonstration. A heavenly morning learning about ice-creams and tasting beautiful treats. Yes,  I'd tell you all about the double cream ginger ice-cream, tuiles amandines and sorbets. But I wouldn't like you to think I was being greedy now, would I?

* Photos from the demonstrations are of food cooked by my amazing teachers and I'm not trying to pass them off as my own. Now, there we go, in case there was any confusion. I think we can all see the difference. Ahem. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Week Two in Leiths: Edible clouds and fascinating fish

Q: What do a moule à manqué, sinistral fish and lambs' brains (sorry) all have in common?

A: New things I learnt about in school this week. 

moule à manqué is a sloping cake tin, sinistral fish have eyes on their left-hand side and lambs' brains are considered a delicacy by some. One of these I ate. 

Guess which one? 

Unfortunately I only ate right-eyed fish this week.

The daddy of nose-to-tail eating Fergus Henderson sweetly describes eating brains as "like eating a rich cloud...a crunch and then rich goo"

A rather strange cloud, but cloud-like all the same. A few years ago I was (annoyingly) fussy about eating fish. But if they asked me to stand upside down on a unicycle in Leiths I'd give it a go. Brain tasting was entirely voluntary I hasten to add. 

Our Friday offal demonstration emphasised the importance of being able to cook foods you may not like. So now if you call over and request some poached brains I'll be able to serve that up for you, no worries. 

But back to the rest of the week. 

I'm starting to feel more settled and am enjoying the routine; changing into uniform, setting up my mise en place, cooking and trying to take everything in. 

Wednesday's demonstration was by fish expert Adam Whittle, from Billingsgate Seafood School

Adam's fantastic fish 

A self-confessed fish fanatic, his enthusiasm and knowledge makes you want to learn everything you can about them. His show-and-tell of different fish types and preparation methods was brilliant and skillful, making difficult preparation techniques look easy. Hearing him describe smoked mackerel as a "bar of gold" you know it's a man who loves his fish.

Bar of gold pictured at the back

Cooking sessions are a roller coaster of highs and lows. But it's the best roller coaster I've ever been on.  This week included cooking my first game (partridge) and cullen skink (smoked haddock soup). Followed by the beautiful world of hand-raised pie making.  A pie that survives rolling out of your bag on the Tube, now that's a proper pie. 

Is there anything more satisfying than making your own pie?

Hand-raised veal and ham pie

Maybe following it with another pie: maple pecan pie. Like eating a cloud of crunchy butterscotch. Definitely the type of cloud to be eating. It's also a dish that's rather, em, difficult to transport on the Tube, what with it being sticky and all. Yes, that's why. A tiny sliver managed to find its way home to Mr. Moustache

It's been another thrilling week. I keep reminding myself to slow down, take it all in and enjoy it.  On the way home I close my eyes, think over the day and smile. Until a lovely commuter reminds me that smiling on the Tube is forbidden and knocks me out of the way to get out.  

Next week there're some classic French dishes on the menu. One of which, clafoutis, is a favourite of Mr. Moustache's. I'm not sure who's more excited...if it makes it home this time. 


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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week One in Leiths: The good, the spilled and the ugly (woodcock)

In numbers:

1: The number of giant pots of hot custard I spilled all over my counter.

730: Layers in flaky pastry with 6 rolls and folds.

1, 500: Stirs in my risotto alla Milanese. 

37 million: Rabbits in the UK.

5 million: The number of commuters I battled my way across London with. 

998: The number of times I pinched myself and thought 'this is really happening'. 
What a difference a week makes: 120 little hours. I've learnt more about food and cooking this week than in the last few years. From the moment you walk in the doors of Leiths in the morning, one thing matters and one thing only: cooking.  It's flown by in a blur of Tube - classes - Tube - homework - bed.

The BiblesBedtime reading

The course

There're 96 students altogether, split into classes. 17 of us have just joined for the two term Diploma. Monday - Friday we have demonstrations and cooking sessions which alternate each week between the morning and afternoon. We also have a wine tasting and food matching class once a week. Homework is compiling your time plan for cooking and reading up on techniques and recipes. The first few days felt like being back at school - who will I sit beside? But happily the other kids are very nice and letting me play with them.


This week I had morning demonstrations ranging from the beautiful (and sometimes trauma inducing) Hollandaise sauce to the marvellous world of pastry and game. We taste all the recipes cooked. Tender wild boar cheeks - yes, woodcock - no thank you. Sitting there watching the teachers cook I mentally jumped up and down and screamed yes, yes, yes. I can't quite believe I'm getting to experience this and want to savour every single second.

Wednesday morning and I'm learning about the intricacies of flaky pastry. I thought I knew about pastry. But oh dear, there is so much more to pastry. And really that's what I've learnt this week. There is so much more I need to know about EVERYTHING.


Then it's time to clamber clumsily into my Chef's whites, trousers, necktie, apron and safety trainers.  We work together in fours on each counter and cook two - three recipes which are tasted by the teachers during each session. All the time our skills are being assessed; knife skills, seasoning, egg cooking, meat preparation, timing, presentation, organisation, teamwork, health and safety. And then some.

My bubble 

Time loses all meaning in that kitchen.  It's a bubble in which cooking the dish correctly and serving it on time are the only things that count. It's not saving lives, or changing the world. But when I'm in that kitchen they're the only things that matters. The. Only. Things.

And washing up.

Within the space of 3 hours cooking you go through so many ups and downs. One minute I'm thinking 'brilliant I can do this'. The next I'm shrieking in my head 'What are you doing, don't do that!'. Then I do it (slowly). Like chicken and red pepper pie with flaky pastry, crispy Chicken Kiev, crème caramel and aubergine and prosciutto gougeres.

On Friday it was time to make Eggs Benedict. I love making Hollandaise and I can poach eggs. Remember what I just said.

My eggs were a lovely teardrop shape and I started my Hollandaise. No splitting. Let's season it shall we?  Let's go overboard with the salt. Because that would make sense wouldn't it?

After I called service and my teacher tasted it I could feel myself cringing, extra salty Hollandaise, how did I just do that? But sure it couldn't get worse could it?

My beautiful teardrop eggs won't let me down, they'll save me. My sweet little eggs.

She cut into them.

They weren't fully cooked. My terrible little eggs.

How. Did. I. Do. That.

I could tell you how I can really poach eggs. But that doesn't matter. What matters is what you serve in that kitchen. I can't make excuses - I messed up.

But then you have to just carry on, get on with the washing up and now that I'm outside the bubble it seems a little funny to be so obsessed with poached eggs. But when you're in it they matter.

The first week has opened my wide eyes to all I have to learn. I can't wait to keep going. There'll be ups, downs, twists, twirls but it feels like there's no where else I should be but right here, right now.

Tomorrow we're cooking partridges, I'm off to dream of one in a pear tree. Fingers crossed there're no poached eggs with that...

What's next:

Each weekend I'll do an update on my adventures in Leiths.

But that's a bit one-sided now isn't it? Check out the blogs of my lovely fellow students if you'd like to follow their journeys too; SteffiJackie and Kate.

What happened next?

Week Two in Leiths: Edible clouds and fascinating fish.
Week Three in Leiths: The Very Hungry Cookery Student.
Week Four in Leiths: Meringues gone wild and ovens behaving badly.
Week Five in Leiths: Confessions of a cookery student

Monday, January 07, 2013

Normal service will resume as soon as possible...

School bag, check.

Uniform, check.

Lunchbox, check.

Bundle of nerves, check.

Butterflies, check.

Last Wednesday I packed my bag and went back to school, at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Feeling like a kid again with first day nerves.

My new home from home 

Every year on the first day of school when I really was a kid my Dad brought me to McDonald's. He texted on Wednesday wanting to know who was going to bring me this time? If I'd gone I'd have ordered a supersize happy-delirious meal.

My head is bursting with all the information and I can't wait to share the adventures. It's been a manic few days and did you know that pastry knows when you're afraid of it? It does. It really does.

But for now I'm taking a few days to settle in and trying not to burn/cut or otherwise injure myself or any cooking equipment. The first full update is in the's just warming up. Last cooking analogy, promise. Otherwise this could be a long six months. Oops.