Sunday, 29 May 2011

Nearly done. Overdone.

This past week we continued applying the numerous classic techniques learnt over the last three months to various forms of seafood.

We began by cooking some pan seared crispy skinned trout:

Filets de Truite Meuniere aux Amandes

Pan-Fried Fillets of Trout with Almond Beurre Noisette and Hollandaise

Being a die-hard saltwater fisherman and not having the patience to fly fish for trout meant that this trout was the first I ever tasted. I've heard some people call the flavour muddy and I've never met anyone who was overly enamored with trout, so it was with trepidation I set about filleting my fish. Very quickly upon taking one side off I started noticing some similarities between trout and salmon, I didn't expect the flesh to be orangey-pink or for the skin to be the same fatty texture and taste as salmon. Overall I was happy with my trout and came to the conclusion that it is indeed a muddier inferior version of salmon, inferior but still very nice. I also whipped up my first hollandaise in the kitchen that day which was quite successful, and was a dream combination with the trout. Eggs Bene here I come!...

The next day we cooked the classic French dish 'Moules Marinieres,' mussels stewed in white wine with parsley. It was simple and delicious, apart from the quality of the UK mussels (tiny and inferior to our huge by comparison green-lipped mussels from NZ) it was good to learn the secret to finishing the plate the French way: with a mountain of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley. We also cooked and prepared a very large, very much alive Dungeness crab. After dispatching and cooking the crab in a court bouillon we extracted all the white and brown meat, cleaned out the shell and layered the meat in with various garnishes.

My phone had died that day so here's an example of our crab dish, this one was done by a classmate:

Crabe Farci a l'Anglaise

Dressed Crab

Moving on from the seafood at the end of the week we grilled some fillet steak to go with some sauce bearnaise (similar to hollandaise, some differences namely the addition of some herbs, the dominant one being tarragon) and pont-neuf (deep fried) potatoes. I didn't even mind coming in to school at 6pm on a Friday to cook because it meant a beautiful steak for dinner.

Fillet de boeuf grille, sauce bearnaise, pommes pont-neuf

I also managed a practice run-through on my exam dish which is in a week, the day is getting nearer and nearer and I'm starting to get a bit nervous.

Chicken Fricassee with Glazed Vege

This time around my piece of breast meat was overdone but my drumstick was perfect, it's a tight balance trying to get the white and dark meat evenly cooked in a braise. My sauce was again too creamy, and some of the vege got burnt but that was my sous chefs mistake, I was on meat/sauce duty. So again, I have some things to work on before the exam. I'm doing a full run through on Wednesday cooking for the lady I live with, her daughter and her daughters boyfriend. 

Four perfect plates, two hours maximum, can I do it?.. Find out in a day or two.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Fish at last

This week has been an interesting one for me, from offal to meat to fish it was a real mixed bag. We started the week cooking with offal, something I hadn't been exposed to at all outside of indiscriminate bits of kidney inside a good old steak and kidney pie. I knew that I disliked liver, something about the heavy metallic smell and taste and soft mouth coating texture of it put me off years ago. However I held a hope of having developed a taste for it and perhaps even enjoying it this time around being the rabid carnivore that I am. I thought liver may be for me like oysters, olives and mustard, food that I never touched for years that I suddenly woke up craving.

These are the dishes we cooked:

Seared Calves Liver, Potatoes, Caramelized Onions, Jus

Unfortunately liver didn't do it for me again, it was medium rare, slightly overdone for the chef. The flavour was just too strong and unfamiliar for me so I brought it home to my flatmate who absolutely loved it. Apparently offal is like that, completely polarizing, people either absolutely love it or hate and often family members may be completely split down the middle. It's important to be able to cook offal well because its a valuable addition to restaurant menus in that people who love it don't often get to eat it at home because some in their family may not so they order it when they go out.

Sweetbreads, Asparagus, Jus

Sweetbreads I didn't mind, I liked the creamy texture and the inoffensive flavour compared to liver.

Do you like offal? Let me know what you think in the comment section below!

We moved on from offal to cooking some paupiettes, meat parcels stuffed with various things:

Chicken stuffed with Savoury Mousse, Courgette Spaghetti, Tomato Sauce

This was a really nice dish, but I over-reduced my sauce to a nice heavy consistency, I think subconsciously it may have been my brain reminding me that I haven't eaten bolognese in too long.

Finally we started on seafood which continues next week. Seafood is my passion and I've been looking forward to tasting and comparing British seafood to back home.

Rolled Fillets of Lemon Sole with Mushroom Duxelle, Spinach, Beurre Blanc and (badly piped) Potato

It was my first time filleting a flatfish and its definitely more finicky than filleting a snapper, it has four fillets instead of two, all of different sizes. I enjoyed the fish and I'm looking forward to dressing crabs and cooking moules mariniere next week.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Exams on the Horizon

The arrival of the middle of May has brought with it the looming realisation that our final exams are at the start of June. Time has really flown and I find it hard to believe I'm two thirds of the way through basic cuisine, the first part of my three part diplome de cuisine.

Our final grades are composed of roughly 40% our work in the kitchens throughout the term, 10% a written exam and 50% the final dish, so it is exceedingly important. Suffice to say a meltdown in the final exam and a resulting fail for the practical would end up in an overall fail, everything's on the line.

We've known about what dish we have to prepare for our final practical exam for a while now, and indeed last Thursday was our first chance to gauge how difficult the exam was going to be as we prepared it for the first time.

The dish we have to produce in 2 hours is a Chicken Fricassee with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Glazed Vegetables.

Now this isn't a difficult dish at all to cook, but what I can say is that overall the difficulty of the dish is greater than the sum of its parts. Most of the key techniques we've learnt this term are included:
-turning vege
.....but none of these are difficult. The main difficulty is time, or more specifically the lack of it.

We have to singe, trim and butcher chicken into eight equal portions. Sear it, braise it, make a sauce, reduce it, prepare a mountain of different vegetables, turn 6 of each vegetable (carrots, courgettes, potatos, baby onions) perfectly, glaze them all individually in their own pans, and then the tough part; bringing it all together at temperature from five or so pots and pans.

Here is my first attempt which took me about 2.5 hours, I accidentally deleted the best photo I took but this'll give an idea:

Not pretty by any means, but it's a plate of food intended to demonstrate skills not win rosettes. I prepared the dish 30 minutes over time which isn't bad for a first attempt. It was a very frantic 2.5 hours I will admit, but hopefully due to a revision in my plan of attack and some improvement on the two main time consuming jobs (the butchery and turning of vege), I'll be able to get under that two hour mark comfortably.

Chef's feedback on my Fricassee:
-Chef said this was easily a passing dish, hooray! but I'm aiming for more than passing, I want to pass well.
-My vegetable turns which you can see in the photo were "OK but nothing to write home about.."
-The vege was glazed and seasoned well
-My chicken was cooked perfectly and well seasoned
and the negatives:
-Parsley wasn't a chiffonade, oops!
-Mushroom sauce too creamy. This was a byproduct of the fact that I had far too much stock to reduce for my sauce so I overcompensated with cream (the stock reduction also added immeasurable time despite double reducing in two pans).

Overall a definite success, but with a couple more practice rounds the final exam should run a lot smoother.

Last week we also made some more soups:

Consomme Celestine (clear beef broth with savoury crepes)

and Soupe a l'oignon gratinee ( French onion soup)

The onion soup was nice and hearty, we added some sherry which gave it more depth. The beef consomme was lost on me, it seemed like a lot of work and waste for a clear, not particularly flavoursome watery soup. Chef was happy with the consomme so it wasn't my cooking, just a matter of personal preference, I imagine I'd really enjoy a seafood based broth.

We also cooked a charming baby chicken who had kindly saved me his green entrails:

Poussin Saute a l'Estragon, Compote de Pommes

Baby Chicken with Tarragon and Mustard Sauce, Apple Compote

This is my favourite dish of the last few days in the kitchen and probably my best effort yet. 
"Not a lot wrong there, a good plate of food." 
From one of the Cordon Bleu chefs that sounded to me like: "You are an absolute God of the kitchen, a scholar and a gentleman."

Thats all for now, tomorrow is offal day!

I've seen this reading up to 50 degrees.

If you can't stand the heat ... ... .. ... .......!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Welcome to my life Foie Gras

The few days since my last post have been very busy, jam-packed with delicious delicious food.

Last Thursday a group of my good friends from school and I went to the spring-themed, multi-course, dinner extravaganza at school, cooked by the superior students. We don't often see the superior students at school, I imagine they spend most of their time locked away experimenting with exotic and expensive ingredients like lobster and foie gras. On Thursday they proved that they actually do exist.....and spectacularly so. However I'm going to leave you in suspense and come back to this at the very end. Sorry!

I went out on Saturday night to the apartment of one of my good friends from school, a girl from China who INSISTED I had never eaten 'proper' Chinese food. She was right. She cooked a number of dishes for us including: an incredibly good pork rib dish, so tender and rich in flavour, her own twist on 'sweet and sour' with a prawn dish, and a chicken dish which I can't describe but was a revelation, and served everything with a mountain of fried rice which I think she's probably still eating. It was a great night with food to match.....and this is concerning for me as it is now my turn to cook a selection of Kiwi dishes for everyone. I'm honestly having trouble thinking of anything as impressive as what we've eaten previously that I can cook for everyone, so those of you back home have any ideas for me please let me know!

Yesterday we spent a few hours cooking thousands of eggs and I can now gladly say I can competently cook an omelette, joy of joys! We also cooked eggs Florentine among other things, but that all pales in comparison to the mastery of the perpetually troublesome omelette.

We also cooked some monster pork chops:

 Sage-marinated Pork Chop with Honey Mustard Jus, Puree Potato and Sage Chiffonade

Tasted great, no complaints from Chef, so a definite success.

Today we made a soup or two:

Potage Julienne d'Arblay (left) , Veloute Agnes Sorel (right)

In English: a potato and leek soup with julienned vege and a chicken and mushroom veloute

And now the Superior dinner and some interesting food, not to mention decent photography.

Firstly I'd like to thank Jina, a friend and classmate of mine who knows her way around a camera and took the amazing photos of the food. 

It was a night of firsts for me. Mere minutes after arriving my life was changed forever when I picked up what looked like a small deep fried fish ball with a prawn on a skewer and without giving it a passing thought, ate it. Oh my God. Whatever was inside it was incredibly rich and beautifully textured, I thought it may have been some type of cheese, but it was different. Completely foreign to me. One of my friends must have noticed me looking puzzled when they asked me what was wrong, "nothing, what on earth was that?!". "Oh that? That was the crispy Foie Gras". It was good, life-changingly good. 

The second first was trying rhubarb for the first time as far as I can remember, the rhubarb course was also the catalyst for my second (and thankfully last) faux-pas of the night, you'll find about those soon.

The menu:

Le Printemps (Spring)


Iced Pea & Mint Cappucinno
Seared Tuna with Pickled Cucumber & Confit Cherry Tomato

Oyster Ceviche with Chilli, Lime and Cold Gin Dressing

Stunning, I absolutely love oysters and this one was a little beauty, I only wish he came with around five more of his friends.

Asparagus, Poached Quail Eggs & Pancetta with Tarragon Vinaigrette

Quails eggs were new for me, they were very delicate and perfectly cooked, oozing onto the plate when broken.

Stuffed Loin of Lamb with Yuca Frites, Shredded Lamb Shank on Sweet Plantain Puree

This was lamb how I've never seen it done. The sweet plantain puree was the underdog here, it seems an odd combination with lamb but it worked. Emphatically. The Yuca Frites were like deep fried chips only two hundred times better.

Bosworth Ash Goat, Bleu d'Auvergne, Unknown Brie

This dish really hammered home the skill of the Chefs involved for me. I was expecting three different naked cheeses on a plate. What they delivered was three different cheeses with three different garnishes which individually enhanced each cheese but also help tie each one in with the others. The blue cheese had a sweet balsamiccy type reduction drizzled on it and a walnut, the pungent goats cheese had a mysterious sweet fruit accompaniment and the brie, a simple red grape. The different garnishes brought varying levels of sweetness appropriate to each cheese and tied it all together into a great plate. 

This course was also the catalyst for faux-pas number one. I ended up sitting at the end of of the table with some girls doing superior patisserie including Claire (another Cordon Bleu blogger whose blog I linked in my very first blog post). Now I will be the first to admit my eyesight isn't the best in the world and this proved to be my downfall. The lights were dimmed and when my cheese plate arrived what was actually a cube of brie with two halves of grape beside it, looked to me like some sort of blurry zebra striped cheese. "What is this?" I remarked. One of the girls picked up a half of grape....."it's a grape". It was immensely embarrassing, I had an opportunity to prove not all of us doing basic cuisine are complete newbies and I blew it mistaking a grape!

Vanilla Cheesecake on Chocolate Sable with Rhubarb Glaze accompanied by Sorbet

I'm not much of a sweet tooth but I really enjoyed this dessert, in particular the mysterious sorbet with the flavour I couldn't figure out. To me it tasted passionfruity, but not really, maybe a blend of berries and passionfruit? I asked one of the patisserie girls and she looked at me incredulously, 
"It's rhubarb flavoured".
 "Oh that makes sense, I've never tried rhubarb before"
"You've never eaten rhubarb!?!"
Cue embarrassment and faux-pas number two.

Petit Fours:
Chocolate Coffee Cup
Lavender Macaroon
Chocolate Praline

And finally Jina (the excellent photgrapher) and I.

A great night, and amazing food to boot. To see what the Chefs produced has been inspiring and reaffirmed for me my choice to come Le Cordon Bleu. Excited for the future!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

7 Courses 7 Wines

Yesterday we had our first wine lecture and tasting. We tasted six wines in total starting with three Burgundian whites, two which were chardonnay and one miscellaneous. Chardonnay is my favourite type of white wine but I wasn't overly fond of any of them, I found them quite acidic instead of the buttery, oakey, crisp chardonnays I've tried in NZ, maybe thats the French style or they were too young.

The most useful thing I learnt was that you can tell the age of a white wine solely by looking at its colour, a very young white will be a very pale yellow green and turning straw yellow, golden and finally yellow/orange (with various colours in between) as it ages. Aging of the wine in oak increases the speed of that aging so you need to keep that in mind when tasting white wines with woody characteristics.

We then tried three red wines from Bordeaux from both sides of the river culminating in my favourite which was a 11 year old Cab sav/Merlot from the left bank. It was all very informative and increasingly more enjoyable in particular for me and the 90% of others that didn't use spittoons after trying the various wines.

Today we went in this morning and spent an hour or two creating:

A White Veal Blanquette with Braised Rice and Glazed Vege
(this is the only photo I have, unfortunately it was before I cleaned the plate)

This is an intentionally pale, rich, thickened veal stew with the vegetables added for flavour and then removed at the end. It looks simple but it's a bit more complicated than a normal stew, with lots of straining and separating needed as well as a roux and a liasion to thicken it. This is probably my best dish so far and even the Chef had no complaints. It was rich like I hoped but at the same time quite delicate, there aren't any robust flavours obvious, more a symphony of subtle ones in agreement.

Tonight a few of my classmates and I are going to a dinner cooked and organised by the cuisine students at their final stage of study at Le Cordon Bleu. This is something that every superior cuisine student has to do in order to graduate; produce a restaurant style degustation dinner for a large number of people. It's going to be seven courses with matching wines and I've heard rumours of oysters and foie gras so I'm looking forward to it! It will also be valuable to see the level that the chefs are cooking at and what I can expect to be able to produce a few months down the track.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I love steak

Today was a busy day of which we spent the majority in the kitchen, yes! The red meat theme continued with a medley of steaks with various accompaniments, I was very excited to get my hands on sirloin and my absolute favourite fillet, steaks and do them justice. Until today I hadn't had a good piece of steak since I left New Zealand in February and that would have probably been one of my Mums famous 'Holy Cows'. Yes I will admit I miss my mother......her meat providing and cooking skills that is!!

Just kidding love you Mum, anyway here are the plates I produced today:

Roast Sirloin of Beef with Garden Vege, Pommes Chateau and Artichoke

or its unfathomable French name:

Contrefillet de Boeuf Roti Accompagne de sa Jardiniere de Legumes, Pommes Chateau & Fonds d'Artichauts Cuits dans un Blanc

For those who speak French I apologise for the numerous missing accents in the above description. I'm trying my very best to learn all the French terms but I find the pronunciation difficult, it was a lot easier in France I picked it up so much faster!

As for the dish, it was hardly groundbreaking but it was good. I was happy with the cooking of everything except my potatoes. Dealing with the artichoke was interesting, I'd never dealt to one before and I'm not sure what it adds to the dish but it tasted nice. I was hoping for a darker, tidier jus but c'est la vie, tasted rich like it needed to.

Steak au Poivre et Pommes Darphin

Peppered Steak with Darphin Potatoes

In this dish I was a victim of my own personal tastes and perhaps even where I come from! Most people I know back home, including myself, habitually add a mountain of cracked pepper to everything. I'm the guy that even puts pepper on his fries from Burger King and McD's, thats right I'm hardcore for cracked black pepper! Don't fret though! I didn't lose my mind completely, it was only my pepper sauce that was a bit too rich..and......peppery. I personally liked it and so did my classmates, but the French Chefs at school do truely detest any more than the slightest amount of pepper on anything. In my mind it defeats the purpose of a pepper sauce but its something I need to work out of my system anyway. To me everything tasted beautiful so  I was very happy, I still need to work on my presentation though, it honestly sucks. At the time in the heat of the kitchen when plating it always looks so good to me, but on reflection later it really isn't as aesthetically pleasing as I thought. Apparently we focus more on presentation later on in the course so I'm looking forward to that.

Tomorrow we have a wine lecture, hopefully we get to try some nice wine. The last nice drop I had was with Giles in Bordeaux, we went into a wine tasting place and tried numerous large glasses of red and had a good time. He tried to teach me French and it was going really well I until about glass #2 where I had to stop him and say; "Sorry mate, I just can't do this right now..........but would you like a glass of Medoc perhaps?" The response being an emphatic yes. We couldn't believe our luck finding the place, the glasses were huge, the wine excellent and dirt cheap, like they were almost giving away the stuff. Suffice to say we made the most of it. We did find out later though that the idea of the place is that you go there for a tipple, and when you leave you buy a box of it. Well we had a tipple or 5 and didn't buy any......oops!!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

A long break..

I hope everyone enjoyed their Easter holidays and got the most out of their days off. For us here in the UK and in particular at Le Cordon Bleu, the Easter break has really thrown a spanner at the smoking gear that was our momentum up until two weeks ago. In the last 14 days we've had a total of three working days that weren't affected by bank holidays and weddings. As a result we haven't been as productive in the classroom as I would have liked, so todays post will be a short one. On a side note what did everyone think of the wedding?

I can't remember the order of the things we've done since the last post, but heres a list of some of the things we've covered:

- Making/cooking fresh pasta, risotto

Heres an example of one of the dishes I cooked:
Fresh pasta with sauce alfredo

- Numerous new sauces, for pasta and red meat

- Butchery of a whole lamb: Chef broke down an entire lamb into its French cuts and proceeded to roast two legs and a rolled saddle so the entire class could have a pile of lamb for lunch.

And now a plate of lamb, it tasted so good it took me back to New Zealand:
Lamb rack with gratin bayaldi and jus

Feedback: Bones not trimmed enough, jus good, meat medium/rare instead of rare, not bad on the whole.

- Butchery of a whole side of sirloin: Chef broke down a huge side of sirloin which was about twice the size of the lamb and also contained the largest eye fillet any of the chefs at school had ever seen. It was about 2.5x the size of the fillets I'm used to, a monster. The Chef went on to cook a boeuf bourguignon and about 30 steaks, half sirloin and half fillet. That was a great lunch too.

As you can probably tell we're in the middle of a part of the course concerned with cooking various types and cuts of red meat, it really is relevant to my interests! This continues for the next few days and then we move onto veal, escalopes and veal stews. I've never worked with veal so I'm looking forward to it.

And now some odd photos just because I can:

Everyone needs a blowtorch

My street in South London on a good day

 London morning sky....

London sky, midday. Spot the difference....

Until next time and hopefully with some good photos of meat dishes..