Ashburton Cookery School – the final week

With my evenings full of planning for ‘mystery box day’ and revising for the end of course exam (also why I failed to keep posting daily) this week absolutely flew by. On Tuesday  we had a healthy eating expert come in to teach us about the health benefits of things like raw food and food combining and I was really surprised at how interesting I found it all and how inspired the day made me to experiment with health foods.

We started off making a green (or rather, verging on green) smoothie, more of a half-way house between your everyday fruit smoothie and your full blown green smoothie.The one we made was mostly fruit; apples, oranges and raspberries, with the green addition of chard (which should have been kale but there was none available). I almost want to say I preferred this over normal smoothies. It didn’t taste at all like cabbage, but the fruit was more mellow and less intensely sweet than in a pure fruit smoothie. I’m keen to try a ‘shrek smoothie’ now, a concoction of tropical fruits and spinach that supposedly comes out shrek green. (Looks like a decent blender may have made it on to my list of new equipment I want for the kitchen, alongside the knife set, ice cream maker, pasta machine, mini tart cases…) To go with our smoothie we made a raw porridge (oat groats – raw, unprocessed oats, that are still alive and full of active enzymes – soaked for about 24 hours in water, then mixed with apple juice, chopped apple and berries. I’m a bircher muesli fan, so this held instant appeal with me, only it had a fair amount more chew, providing us with an ideal opportunity to learn how to chew properly (at least thirty times!). This was something I prove not to be very good at.

Raw porridge and a greeny-brown green smoothie

Over the day we made a range of meals using healthy cooking methods including poached salmon with basil pesto and steamed chicken roulade stuffed with roasted pepper, olive and sun dried tomato, served with a red pepper and chickpea sauce and steamed vegetables. These were both lovely, fresh tasting dishes and very welcomed after three weeks of rich and creamy meals. Continue reading

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Ashburton Cookery School Day 16

The beginning of the final week. I can’t believe how fast the course has gone and really wish it could go on a little longer!

It was a funny sort of day today as we spent the afternoon revising theory for Friday’s exam, which I’m feeling slightly stressed about. Less stressed than I am about Wednesday’s ‘mystery box’ day though, when I will have to cook four courses from a selection of as yet unknown ingredients. It’s supposed to be ‘fun’, and I’m trying to look at it like that, but I think I’m lacking a little confidence in my abilities and feeling pretty anxious that what I cook will end up being a disaster!

We got a little practice for Wednesday today with the ‘mystery fish’ lunch we had to prepare. The mystery fish turned out to be mullet, and we were given a selection of ingredients: fennel, chilli, garlic, spring onions, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and capers, to pull a meal together with. I decided on cooking my fish en papillote (because frying fish scares me…I blame my mother, who has somehow managed to ingrain in my subconscious that frying fish is very difficult and likely to end up going wrong). I added, finely sliced fennel, a little garlic, and lemon slices to my parcel along with the fish and made a salsa out of the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, chilli, spring onions and some parsley. I think it turned out ok.

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Ashburton Cookery School Day 15

Canapé day!

If I’m honest I was a little nervous about today with its ‘canapé challenge’. The word ‘challenge’ makes me anxious. It presents the possibility of failure and embarrassment. Images of Wednesday’s flaming sieve were springing back to mind, bringing with them that stomach curling feeling of shame.

But my worry turned out to be relatively unnecessary as we were split into teams of four, so as it could be a joint effort (or joint failure, if you want to look at it pessimistically). And really there was no real way to fail at the challenge: to produce eight different plates of canapés in an hour (or a couple of minutes/ quarter of an hour/ half an hour extra, if we needed it.) Continue reading

Ashburton Cookery School Day 14

A brilliant day of thai cooking today, full of some really punchy flavoured dishes. First up was spring rolls stuffed with pork mince, vermicelli rice noodles, oyster sauce and coriander. To accompany these we made a tamarind dip, using a lump of fresh tamarind. Wow was it sour! But it worked well as a contrast to the sweetness of the spring rolls. Alongside the spring rolls, we made thai fish cakes (Tod Mun Pla) with red curry paste, lime leaves, fish sauce, kra-chaai and fresh turmeric. To go with these we made Nam Aa-Jaad, a sweet, sour and spicy dipping sauce that really kicked. Continue reading

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

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Ashburton Cookery School Day 12

We had lots of mini meals today but unfortunately no dessert (excluding yesterday’s brownie which we had at lunch time). Surely it’s no good thing that after two weeks we’ve all grown to expect some sweet/ baked/ pastry-based/ chocolate-covered treat after every meal and feel a twinge of disappointment when there is nothing to be had, regardless of how full we all feel from the main course, or in today’s case, four small meals.

Today focused on vegetarian food and the first ‘light’, snack-type meal, which actually turned out pretty heavy to eat, was an interesting twist on boiled egg and soldiers. The soldiers were made from strips of set polenta, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried and the soft boiled egg receiving a similar crumbed and fried treatment. We then served the egg nestled in the hollow of a baked mushroom. I was really impressed by how perfectly cooked the egg was and the breadcrumb ‘shell’ added a nice texture. The polenta soldiers were a quirky touch only I found them a little on the filling side.

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Ashburton Cookery School Day 11

Today was bakery day!

I was very excited for today.

I’ve attempted bread a few times before, but have never been overly pleased with the results (the last two white loaves I made and a focaccia being the exceptions), so I was really looking forward to being taught how to do it properly. Turns out I was nearly there, I just wasn’t adding quite enough liquid to my dough.

As you would expect from a baking day, we baked masses, and I have come home with enough bread to open a small bakery and no idea how I am going to shift it all. Continue reading