Ashburton Cookery School Day 13

Today was one of the most delicious food-wise so far, as well as being possibly the most disastrous for me. Being the only one in the group to mess up some of my poached quails eggs, I was shamed in having to ask for some more to re-do them. I then proceeded to set a muslin cloth and plastic sieve on fire. But fortunately the great food and a glass of red has provided a largely effective salve for such embarrassment.

We kick started the day by cracking open a bottle of bubbly to make a champagne and elderflower jelly, before moving on to an array of little jobs, including said poached quails eggs…super cute, but with cuteness comes fragility, as I expertly demonstrated. We also poached smoked haddock and sweated leeks for our lunch dish, chopped berries to go in our jelly and blanched broccoli florets and peeled shallots for dinner.

Lunch was a beautiful haddock and leek tart (or more accurately, quiche, but we came to a group conclusion that the word tart has a better ring to it than quiche, which has a unfortunate ability of conjuring up those unappealing, over eggy, soggy based supermarket quiches.) The pastry, which we made on Monday and rolled and blind-baked yesterday, was a tricky one to work with. But the fiddlyness paid off in super light, crumbly pastry. Filled with large flakes of smoked haddock, sweet leeks and an egg mix made with the milk and cream mix the haddock was poached in, these tarts were packed with flavour.

Edible flowers and micro cress- turning a £5 dish into an £8 dish

We also made a rabbit consommé. I’ve never really appreciated consommé before…the through of clear, watery, stocky, meat flavour liquid failed to excite me. But seeing the process that goes in to making consommé shed a whole new light on things…It’s pretty much as close to magic as cooking gets. Who on earth figured out that if you added egg whites to stock, some chopped veg and herbs and boiled it for a bit, the egg whites would float to the surface like an egg white omelette and soak up all the impurities in the pan to leave a perfectly clear liquid underneath…genius! The consommé had a lovely clean, fresh taste, into which we floated the poached quails eggs and little (in my case slightly lumpy looking – still haven’t mastered them yet! -) quenelles of chicken mousseline. A little like it did at consommé, my nose wrinkled slightly at the thought of chicken mousse, but I was again too speedy to judge, the mousseline had a great flavour and brought a novel texture element to the consommé, for when you weren’t enjoying the bursting of a diddy quails egg in your mouth.

More pretty flowers…one day my quenelles might look pretty too!

Dinner was pan-fried pigeon (read wild wood pigeon, not diseased, Trafalgar square pigeon) breast. This was the first time I’ve eaten pigeon and I loved it. It has definitely won a place ahead of duck in my personal ranking of favourite poultry. A good hot, fast cooking ensured blushing, tender, lean and well-flavoured meat. We served the sliced breasts with caramelised balsamic shallots, game crisps, a port and mushroom jus made from the pigeon carcasses, broccoli and hazelnuts.

We were back on the desserts today and this one didn’t disappoint, particularly on the sorbet front…coconut, lemon grass, lime and chilli sorbet – a cool, creamy, zesty, refreshing-with-a-warm-kick-in the-back-of-the-mouth flavour revelation. Despite the unusual- perhaps off putting for some- addition of the chilli, we all thought the sorbet was amazing. And so, a little sadly, our champagne and summer berry jellies were somewhat sidelined. I thought they made an attractive, light and summery dessert, although mine demanded a considerable deal of my concentration in trying to discern whether I could tell there was champagne in it….I think I could…just!

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