Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vinegar or Wine, Delicacy or dogs dinner!

As we come to a close of the second week in my cookery course, what have I learnt? Well, I now know there is a competitive streak in me determined to have my presented dish look better then the next persons. I think I want to be the best student, definitely in this group, that NZSFW has ever had. I am sure that will be a ridculous statement to make so soon into the course and my abilities are still so naive and young. Nurturing the passion to develop grand menus and challenging dishes that excite and delight will take longer then the requisite 16 weeks. We have worked on vegetables and stocks and sauces so far and no the heat in the kitchen will be turned up because these things although difficult in themselves are the boring and back to basics of cooking. However, when we are grilling a fish or baking a lamb shank or have a nice steak on the gridle we have to be thinking "veggies?", "sauce?" and make and ensemble piece.
First set of homework handed in and no one is quite sure what was expected of us. Guess we shall find out on Monday and just how little prepared we all are for the amount of effort they are expecting of us. Do we wanna shine. Well I bloody do so I know I need to write more and get reading more and devour cookery books by the truck load. Heston Bleumenthal's Fat Duck book was on a stand in a bookstore yesterday and I skimmed through it. Massive and full of amazing colours and things that dont quite look like food. He has laid out the challenge, as has Jamie and Gordon and I am not looking to emulate Floyd with a bottle of red in one hand. Do I wanna be like Nigel Slater - he at least is down to earth and no nonesense. Like Nigella - no we already have the porn star celebrity chef - no emulating that, besides she has it in spades.
Had our first wine day as well and looking forward to more of those. Keri our instructor seems very well versed and a lot of fun. Tasting jelly babies as the initial instruction on how the tongue works in conjunction with our nose. Olfactory senses appear to be bloody important in being able to taste food. My liquorice jelly bean tasted like sugar and nothing else when I held my nose. When I released it all the aniseed smells emanated around me and filled my mouth with new sensations. I guess thats why chicken soup is subjected to people with colds/flus - they can't bloody taste it anyways so why not.
I made French Onion Soup today and was dissapointed in the final colouring of my onions. Was I too lacklustre in the browning process - afraid to burn - I dont now, trying to impress the boss (head chef) I tried to be too careful with my cooking heat. As a result I lightly sauteed and braised my onions until browning was just turning them to mush. It still tasted delicious though in the end. Smothered in toasted sourdough bread and melted gruyere cheese with a sprinkling of parsley.
Eggs next week. Poached, omletted, in salad, in baking, fried, boiled the team will be toyed with and taunted to create little gems of genius. I have some secret ideas up my rolled up chef sleeves. Will let you know how I get on.
Signing off for now - have a yoga class.
Thanks dear reader for listening to me rant.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Twenty One things to do with a Carrot!

Now the title for this blog could sound extremely rude and some might say, I will get loads of porn surfers looking up my blog now for food porn suggestions. However, as I am writing a blog about my new found wisdom in culinary skills and the course I am on is currently focusing on vegetables - I am surprised myself, with a carrot's versatility. Julienne, Jardinere, Paysanne, (types of cutting techniques). They are used in soups, stocks and as decoration. You roast them, boil them, grate them, puree them - I could go on. Well its interesting for me anyways.
So the course is one week in and I am delighted by the prospects of another 15 weeks. True a week on vegetables may sound boring but we have to have a grounding and build our way up. It was sauces today! - All the french words keep getting stuck in my throat and make me jittery about whether I will remember them all, but I will get there. Bechamel sauce, mornay, mushroom, some easy, some meant to drive you mad, but once you know the technique - its tre terrifique!
So I am bringing home all the food I cook, which means trying to get ellaborate with its uses. Todays mushroom sauce and mornay sauce has been used to make my diner tonight and lunches for the next two days - Just add a little fettucine to the sauces and with the mornay I added a little streaky bacon so carbonara tommorrow. Friday was theory day and we had a day at looking at how to run a kitchen and more importantly what to think about to ensure it makes money. So budgeting and menu planning - I suppose this is what its all really about. getting creative but making it financially viable. Sort of takes the romance out of it all. Sure I would love to order fresh truffles from France - flown over in a lear jet, for that perfect over the top dish that's gonna wow the patrons, but then I would need a patron willing to pay over $25,000 for a dish. I have several projects to work on over the next few months involving setting up a menu for a select group of people (different each project) but ensure I budget accordingly. I have $17.60 to cook a Mediteranean meal for two - that includes starter, main and desert. I pay over $10.00 just for a sandwich for lunch most days. Fuck me its gonna be hard! But enjoying the "wake up and smell the roses" nature of it all. Wish me luck and I will tell you all about my menu decisions.
Thanks dear reader. Speak again soon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If Only One Day I Could Say Fuck Like Gordon!

Well I have started my course. The first day they announced that we shall get our equipment the next day and we should be careful when dealing with our knives. I was eager to have a decent set of knives to cook with and my mate in London of Lambshank fame asked me if I had cut myself yet and that it was a right of passage into chefdom. Well you will be pleased to note that I did incur a little nick on my middle finger. Only a little blood and the knife impressed me rather then scare me due to the easy way it sliced into the flesh. I have cut quite a few pieces of paper in front of people since to demonstrate just how sharp my knives are.
Its now the 4th day which is slack that I have not written a daily account so far due to the important nature of this course for me and my one day hopes to fucking swear with the best of those celebrity knob chefs. Day one was all hellos and meets and greets. Talk about the course which would follow and in the afternoon a fabulous history lesson in French Cuisine by Celia Hays the founder. She has a history degree so she was eager to share her knowledge in this regard. Her knowledge both old and new of chefs in the know was fascinating and exciting. Having dined at the Fat Duck she could attest to the quality and ingenuity of Heston Bleumenthal. What I did not know was the history of the Michelen Star. Developed by the tyre company of the same name (I never knew - Just always thought it unfortunate that they had the same name), and created as a result of the developments in the motor car. People began to travel in the early 1900's and Michelen wanted them to burn rubber so to speak. Travle far and wide and wear out those tyres. So they encouraged people to visit restaurants further afield then their local areas and rated restaurants worthy of visiting. As a result the michelen star was born and people drive to these bastions of fine dining. As a result the chef's that managed to impress the critics of michelen and earn their stars became the first real celebrity chefs. Right up to Gordon and others who now adorn our TV screens some with amazing insight into food and others with utter drivel. The next day was vegetable cutting (the day I cut my finger). Never knew that there was so much science to the simple sliced carrot. Even faces in a diced carrot will allow even colouring and enhance flavour. So cutting needed to be precise and although it seemed a little anal I can appreciate perfectionism that one bit better.
Day three was soups and we made two vegetable soups which I was lucky enough to bring home and serve to my darling's family for starters in a birthday dinner I had eagerly volunteered to cook. So the guests got two soups, a cream of vegetable which I boosted with fresh coriander and a French Provincial soup called Soupe de Pistou which I spiced up and served with a lovely baked foccacia bread from a local bread artisan (can't wait for my own baking week on the course). She wanted Vienna Schnitzle, which although not fine dining was her birthday request - so I delved into the request with gusto. I made the schnitzle with garlic and parsley butter in its centre so when you cut into it the delicious buttery juices poured out. Vegies where, two types of potato (they are an Irish family afterall) one roasted chips and the other a mash concoction where I blended the potato with three seeded mustard and gruyere cheese then piped out into baking tray in lovely swirls to be lightly roasted. Roasted carrots in honey and seseame seeds, courgettes, shallots and mushrooms fried in butter and parsely, Broccolli and snow peas. It was a veritable feast. I even managed an angel cake with hokey pokey icecream and white chocolate and cream sauce.
Today we did more vegetables. A ratatouie and braised cabbage dish and I got to invent a egg plant dish of BBQ'd eggplant, olive oil, garlic, green peppercorns, parsley and cumin. Fuck knows what I will call it - mayber Patlican a la Dazza. It'll be nice on some of that fucking bread I bought.
Tommorrow is budgeting for restaurants so will have t use my brain and also take a calculator. Eugh - maths.

Its a great course though and can't wait to get stuck into some of the more interesting ingredients. Oh and the wine.

Speak soon dear reader.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Update before the whirlwind!

Well its been a while and I have stopped berating myself for being slack so dont you start on me. I came back from Thailand to Australia. Met my darling at the airport and we ventured accross the country visiting friends and family and in the middle had a bit of break in lovely Byron Bay where I turned 40. There was no great fan fare, I did not feel any different afterall. I did however undertake my first ever Yoga class and despite it being advanced and grueling and I sweated like a 40 year old pig I had a ball. Had a cleansing bath to remove toxins through my feet and all around had a holistic experience. We even fit in some comedy at a festival. Back up to Brisbane after the break and said farewells to family again ("boy not another farewell" said my brother). Lisa sung the national anthem at a race meeting on the Gold Coast to raptuous applause by me and thousands of others and we flew to Sydney and saw Tim Minchin perform. He is a genius and had us in stitches. Then it was off to New Zealand.
Christchurch is a fantastic city and for those of you at all interested I will start a new blog this week called A Life Less Ordinary where I will describe the antics I encounter in this fabulous city over the next four months. Working in factories, writing for magazines and checking out the night life. This blog Squeezing Grapes, will continue with my adventures in food as I embark on a 16 week intensive chef course at the New Zealand School for Food and Wine. Starts Monday, so thought I better get back in the swing/saddle so to speak.
One thing I guess I shall admit before going to this course is that my baking skills are slightly lacking. Having been frightened I could never cook perfect rice I have had two attempts prove perfect of late so I can scratch that one off the can't do list. Baking however. I made a fabulous Carrot cake guessing volumes of ingredients like a man refusing to look at directions when he's lost and it worked out brilliantly although I stuffed up the philly cream icing. Still pefecting that one. Then I tried a big Chocolate Cake. Guessed the ingredients again and added a load of choc chips into the mix. The consitency looked good and it tasted lovely prior to baking and watching it grow in the oven was exciting at it rose perfectly. Then when I tried to see if it was cooked all looked good and i decided to cut it in half so I could add a layer of caramel in its centre. Damn it was still soggy in the middle so I had to bake it again cut in half and watch the goo solidify. I then added the caramel and then smothered it in the thickest glumpy icing made with icing sugar and a chocolate mousse packet (didn't really work but those that ate it agreed the icing tasted lovely). The cake itself was stodgy to say the least and was more like a chocolate brownie cake. Thick and heavy. I blamed it on the choc chips melting and stuffing up the sponge effect but I think I just fucked up the mixture because I refused to look at a recipe. Then little kids arrived at the house so the challenge was to bake cup cakes. Had all the ingredients and then at the last minute decided to throw caution to the wind yet again like the idiot I am and cook 'em "guess stylie". You suck at baking dog - says a Randy Jackson in my ear. Gonna get booted off the cooking idol show me thinks. You cook like a bad kareoke singer says Simon. Oh hell the cup cakes looked great although they grew in the oven like scones. I lathered them up in four different coloured icing toppings with freckles and choc chips and other decorations and although I was unhappy with them the kids gobbled them down. I must start using bloody recipes. Who the hell do I think I am.

I made a big Thai meal for Lisa and friends last week and it was a huge hit - and guess what I used my cooking books from the thai cookery class I attended. What a surprise. Well lesson learned and as I am about to enter school and take instruction from a real chef soon I had better start using the tools they give me.

Speak soon dear reader.
Hopefully with cup cake recipes to blow you away with. Gonna make choc chip cookies to a recipe right now and later whip up a bowl of home made hummous for Lisa. I can do that!