Spinach and Sweet Potato Rolls

I was going to call these ‘vegetarian sausage rolls’ but, well, it seemed like a bit of a misnomer. They don’t really have anything to do with sausages, particularly those fake vegetarian sausages. I always feel like if you call a substitute for something the same name as the real thing you’re setting yourself up for failure. Like those sweet potato ‘brownies’. Or seitan ‘chicken’. If you set up the comparison, then the substitute will always suffer. Even if the substitute is something that’s actually perfectly delicious in its own right. This is my long and rambling way of explaining why these are called spinach and sweet potato rolls.


And I’m well aware that spinach and sweet potato rolls isn’t a very inspiring name either. But at least it tells you what you’re getting. And I’m hoping my enthusiasm for these will do the rest because, wow, they are so good. I actually prefer these to real sausage rolls. Something about the gently spiced spinach, the crispy pastry, and the pockets of salty cheese is absolutely irresistible. To me, anyway. I had about four of these straight out of the oven.


These would obviously be absolutely excellent at a buffet or a picnic, even though it still feels far too January to be thinking about such things. But they are also great for packed lunches – they keep well and can be eaten hot or cold. They also make a very satisfying lunch or dinner, alongside some salad or something (or, er, just eaten by the handful).



Adapted from this recipe.


Generous knob of butter
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
400g sweet potato
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp tumeric
250g baby spinach leaves
400g can chickpeas
salt and pepper
200g feta cheese
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 bunch fresh parsley
2 sheets of pre-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp nigella/black onion seeds


  1. Pop your largest frying pan on a medium heat and start to melt your butter. Dice your onion, and pop it into the foaming butter, then turn down the heat and let it cook gently for five minutes. Crush your garlic and add it to the pan. Peel and grate the sweet potato and add this too. Give everything a stir, and let it cook down for around 10 minutes, or until the potato is soft.
  2. When the sweet potato has softened, stir your cumin, turmeric, and spinach into the pan. Turn up the heat and cook for a couple of minutes, driving off some of the water from the spinach.
  3. Drain your chickpeas. Either process with 2 tbsp water to make a rough puree, or mash with a fork, as you prefer. Stir the chickpeas through the mixture. Taste, and season. Set the vegetable base aside to cool completely. You can put it in the fridge to speed this along if you like.
  4. Crumble the feta and finely chop your parsley and coriander. Stir these through the cold vegetable mixture.
  5. Unroll your two sheets of puff pastry, Halve your vegetable mixture. Put half of the mixture onto one of the pastry sheets. Shape it into a log, positioning the mixture around 1/3 of the way up the sheet, then roll the pastry round the filling. Seal it with beaten egg where the pastry edges overlap. Repeat with the second sheet of pastry and the rest of the mix, so that you have two logs of pastry stuffed with filling. Freeze the pastry logs for 30 minutes to firm them.
  6. Heat your oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 4. Remove your pastry from the freezer. Brush the logs with beaten egg, sprinkle them with the seeds, and slice them into smaller rolls – the size is up to you. I like to slash each roll across the top but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
  7. Bake for around 25 minutes, or until your spinach and sweet potato rolls are golden, crispy, and smelling amazing.

The Bake Off Bake Along: Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pastéis de Nata)

Whoa, that’s a long blog post title. On the plus side, I have had to write out the phrase ‘Portuguese Custard Tarts’ so many times this week that I can finally spell Portuguese without second-guessing myself. Thank goodness for the bake off bake along, eh? I (along with the nation, I imagine) was really sad to see Julia go this week. She was so awesome and, although I admit she had a bad week, I didn’t think it was going to be her in for the chop. Even though we’re well into the competition now, I still wouldn’t like to place bets on who is going to win. I quite like that there doesn’t seem to be an obvious front-runner anymore.

Is it just me, or does ‘make four separate but thematically connected savoury pies elaborately decorated with intricate shortcrust pastry designs’ seem more like a showstopper than a signature challenge? I mean, what? And although the the showstopper itself was right up my alley, I couldn’t quite find the time this week. I had a very busy weekend so, as usual, I was planning to take the path of least resistance with the bake off bake along. Which seemed like it would be the technical challenge. I know, I’m a fool.


I realise I sound very lazy in these posts. Don’t get me wrong, I am joining in… I’m just not making the maximum level of effort. I even (whisper it) bought my puff pastry this week instead of making it myself. I know. But, in fairness, I was planning to make it myself, until I looked up recipes for Portuguese Custard Tarts, and every one of them included some variation on the words ‘unwrap your package of pastry, roll it out…’. Who am I to argue?


And the recipe?

I am not going to recreate the recipe here, because I didn’t change it at all. It would seem a bit disingenuous to put it on my own blog. I worked from this. Portuguese Custard Tarts didn’t really seem like the kind of thing you can mess around with to add your own individual twist. Also, I had no idea what I was doing.


By the way, these are actually quite difficult. I thought this would be pretty simple (I mean, I’ve made regular custard tarts! They were fine!), but they were a bit of a nightmare. Maybe it was the recipe I was working from, but this was the faffiest custard I have ever made. Also, perhaps you just need to have a very particular type of oven, but mine didn’t bake up quite as they were supposed to. I didn’t get the perfect blistered dark spots on the top of the custard. I wish I had a blowtorch. My pastry was right on the edge of burning, though, so I couldn’t leave the tarts in the oven for longer in the hope of getting that caramelised top.

Anyway. I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about this week. Not my favourite bake along ever, by any means. Still, next week is Italian week, so how bad could that really be?


Ricotta, Citrus, and Chocolate Tart

Have you ever eaten cannoli? If not, I advise you to stop reading this blog post and go and find yourself some immediately. There’s a little Italian deli on the Cowley Road in Oxford called Il Principe, and it sells properly lovely and authentic Italian food. I mean, I assume it’s authentic. The owners are Italian and I’m not, so what do I know? Anyway, they do an irresistible cannoli. A crisp, fried tube of delicate pastry, filled with ricotta and mixed peel, finished with dark chocolate and icing sugar. It is one of my favourite treats. And so I was always going to love this Ricotta, Citrus, and Chocolate Tart.

Yes, I know I did a chocolate tart pretty recently. But this is a totally different being.


You may well ask why I didn’t just make cannoli, if I love them so much. The problem is that, although you can buy ready-made cannoli shells, they’re pretty difficult to get hold of. They’re also not a patch on the freshly handmade variety. And to make them by hand you need to buy special cannoli tubes to shape the dough around while it’s fried. Even I, a great lover of kitchen equipment, don’t think I could really justify such a purchase. To make it a legitimate buy, I’d have to make cannoli every week. And while, in principle, that sounds like a fabulous idea, in practice I feel logistical issues and health worries might render it impractical as a lifestyle choice.


The proper name for this recipe is Torta Squisita, according to Amelia, my friend and former colleague. She’s spent half her life in Italy, speaks the language and knows the food. It was she who introduced me to the original recipe for this tart, before I messed with it. I’ve made changes, of course, and fiddled with the method, which is why it’s been rechristened as Ricotta, Citrus, and Chocolate Tart. It’s not as pretty a name. But it tells you what it is, and I don’t want to go pretending my version is the proper Italian deal, because it isn’t. It’s really, really delicious though.

Golden, lemon-scented pastry holds a filling of baked ricotta, studded with candied citrus peel and rich flakes of dark chocolate. It’s decadent, and a little bit unusual if you’re looking for something different. When I make this tart, I have to give it away fairly quickly, because I cannot be trusted around it. It’s genuinely one of my absolute favourite desserts. If left alone with it, I will demolish it single-handedly in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

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The original recipe for this tart comes from the lovely Amelia Earl, who I used to work with at the cookery school.


Making your own pastry for this is best, because this recipe will give you a rich, buttery, lemon-y base for the tart. However, if you’re in a rush or simply cannot be bothered to make your own pastry, then a couple of sheets of shop-bought shortcrust will do as a substitute in a pinch.

If you like, you can completely skip the lattice top to this, and simply bake the tart with an open top.


for the pastry

375g plain flour
pinch of salt
75g sugar
zest of 1 lemon
210g cold butter, cubed
3 egg yolks
4-5 tbsp chilled water

for the filling

500g ricotta
125g candied peel (should come diced into small cubes)
150g good quality 70% dark chocolate, cut into rough rubble
100g golden caster sugar
1 large egg


  1. First, make your pastry. Put your flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a food processor. Give it a quick blitz to combine. Add your cubed butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add your eggs yolks and 2 tbsp cold water, and pulse until the pastry starts to come together. If it doesn’t come together and still seems dry, add more water 1 tbsp at a time until it is a cohesive pastry. Tip it out onto clingfilm and knead it together briefly. Divide it into two chunks, one being 3/4 of the total pastry and the other 1/4. You can also leave it in one big piece if you don’t want to do a lattice top. Shape each chunk into a disc, wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for around 20 minutes, or until fairly firm.
  2. While your pastry chills, make your filling. Mix your ricotta, candied peel, dark chocolate, sugar, and egg together until just combined, and set aside. Heat your oven to 190C/170C fan.
  3. Roll out your larger piece of pastry and use it to line a tart tin (roughly 23cm in diameter). Trim the edges. If your pastry has become very soft, pop the tin in the fridge for ten minutes or so to let the pastry firm up before it goes in the oven. When you’re ready, line the pastry case with baking paper, then fill with baking beans or rice, and bake blind for around 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for around another five minutes. You want the pastry to have lost its rawness and started to colour lightly.
  4. While the case is baking, if you’re planning to do a lattice top, roll out your smaller piece of pastry into a rough rectangle and cut it into long strips.
  5. When your pastry case is blind baked, pour your filling into the tart case, and smooth the top. If you’re doing a lattice, lay your strips of pastry in your prepared pattern over the filling. You’re supposed to weave them in and out for a proper lattice, but I always just lay them on top of each other! Pop the whole thing back in the oven and bake for around 30 minutes, or until the lattice pastry is baked and golden and the tart filling is set. Let the tart cool for five or 10 minutes, but do remove it from the tin while it’s still warm, or it could stick.

Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 7

The week started with a cancelled train. Checking the TrainLine app to see how the 6.55 was doing before I left the house (might burn me once…) I saw that its Monday morning excursion had been curtailed due to an ominous and non-specific ‘train fault’. Happily for me, this was the one morning that I didn’t have to be at school early, as we had individual assessment appointments and I was lucky enough to snag a later one. I had been planning to go into school at my normal time anyway to get some work done, but I saw the cancelled train as a fairly clear sign and jumped back into bed for an extra hour of dozing. This seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was this change to my obsessive and rigid routine which put me off my game for the rest of the day. I have to point at something rather than admitting I’m just an idiot. We had a very light cooking prep session in the afternoon, but somehow I managed to mess up my Danish pastry dough, making it too firm despite following the recipe to the letter (still don’t know what happened), and burnt my fingers by using them to test the consistency of sugar syrup (I admit that this sounds very very stupid but this is genuinely how they tell us to test sugar syrup).


On Tuesday, though, the week got going in earnest and I perked up a bit. This week was the week of sugar, baking, patisserie, petit fours, and all things that are good and right in the world. Tuesday morning’s dem, delivered by Ansobe and Jane, was all about petit fours. Think macarons, marshmallows, nougat, caramels… most peple were groaning and sugar-dazed when the morning was done, but I was in my element. Nibble on those scrap ends of marshmallow? Yes please. Spare piece of nougat? Don’t mind if I do.

In the afternoon we continued with our Danish pastry dough (I was pretty sure mine was fundamentally wrong and doomed at this point but marched along regardless), and made a delicious fougasse. Crusty but light, soft and pillowy, spiked with sea salt and Italian herbs, a loaf bigger than your head – it was surprisingly easy and completely wonderful and I will definitely be trying it again at home. We used a biga for the first time (another word for starter), which gives the bread a depth of flavour that you don’t get without some form of slow-fermenting yeast. I’ve made sourdough at home so the process was not completely unfamiliar, but it was far less hassle than your standard starter and worth beginning 24 hours early.

On Wednesday we had our last ever in-house dem, delivered by Phil and Belinda. It was all about fish – which I love almost as much as I love all things sweet – so I was very happy to munch away on sardines, salmon, and cod, as well as more luxurious and exciting treats such as octopus, John Dory, turbot, and even caviar. I longed anew for a decent fishmonger in Oxford. Does anyone know where I can get octopus? Not a rhetorical question, I really want to try braising it at home.


The afternoon was unexpectedly lovely. The morning group had escaped the kitchen about forty minutes late, so we approached the session with trepidation, but it was very relaxed and I even got out a little early. We made the dessert pictured at the top of this post: almond panna cotta; apricot sorbet; almond crumble; hibiscus meringues; caramelised hazelnuts; sugar work; fresh apricots and raspberries; and micro herbs. You know, casual. It was marvellous, and I got told my plate was pretty, which is always a nice surprise. We followed it up with Danish pastries made completely from scratch (see previous moaning in this post). My pastry was pronounced a little tough, but overall everything went unexpectedly well and I think my fellow commuters were probably slightly confused by the overwhelming smell of fresh pastry on the 17.49 to Worcester.

Thursday was unphotogenic but interesting. We were visited by Chris Barber for an all-day session focused on how to set up a food business. As this is what I hope to do when I graduate, the whole day was very helpful and informative, and Chris was a compelling and knowledgeable presenter. We had to split into groups to prepare a business idea to pitch for the end of the afternoon, and then vote on the best plan. Our little group won the vote – thanks mostly to the excellent presentation skills of Laura – so basically I’m pretty sure we’ll all be successful business tycoons before the year is out.


Friday was the day I’d been looking forward to since I started at Leiths: petit fours day. It’s funny how divisive it was, as a day – some people were in their element, and some didn’t even bother coming in to school. As has probably become obvious by now, I am all about the sugar, and so I was definitely in the first camp. We had a lovely, relaxed day and, as a table, made chocolate caramels with vanilla sea salt, passion fruit pate de fruit, toasted pistachio and almond nougat, lemon sherbet marshmallows, macarons with pistachio and raspberry ganaches, and chocolate truffles covered with tempered chocolate. I love making macarons anyway, but the chocolate caramels were a surprise favourite too. I took a huge box of goodies home and it was both impressive and worrying how quickly James and I ploughed through it.


I am now at the end of a cheeky three day weekend, and somehow it’s almost time to go back to school again. Stay tuned for next week, which will include jam-making, an impressive cake, and an abundance of shellfish.


Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 4

I began Week 4 in a bit of a haze, due to a heady weekend cocktail of seeing Derren Brown live, May Day celebrations in Oxford, and an ecstatic, unexpected, unplanned evening at Bellowhead’s last-ever gig. I proudly wore my Bellowhead Farewell Tour t-shirt to school on Tuesday, and since no one there seems to know who Bellowhead are (or were), it meant nothing to anybody but me, and I was reminded again of the vast gulf between my school life and my home life. Different priorities, different cities, different people, different me.

Our Monday morning session was a gentle one in which we produced a salmon mousseline to be quenelled and poached in a Thai-style fish broth. I was a bit unsure about the mousseline, because I adore salmon and sort of hated the idea of blending it to death, pushing it through a sieve, and beating it with cream before faffing about quenelling and poaching it. Well, I should really stop being so suspicious, because the dish was lovely (although I am terrible at quenelling and, by and large, would still prefer to pan-fry a salmon fillet whole).


I wasn’t massively looking forward to the afternoon session on spirits and liqueurs (see opening paragraph regarding weekend of excess), but our presenter was the charming Peter Wilson, who quickly won me over by cleverly peppering his slides with pictures of his adorable dog. Unfortunately, even cute dog pictures couldn’t bring me round to liking whiskey, but the session was very interesting nonetheless. Did you know that according to EU regulations, rum cannot be flavoured, and thus spiced rum is not technically rum but a liqueur instead?! I did not know this and as we have ‘spiced rum’ at home all the time (it’s James’s favourite pre-show sharpener) it blew my mind quite seriously.

We were visited by a Professor of Molecular Gastronomy on Wednesday. Peter Barnham, scientist, food fanatic, and penguin lover, came to talk us through some of the technical explanations of why certain elements of cooking work as they do. We got to eat ice cream made in seconds with liquid nitrogen, watched a lightbulb exploding in a microwave, and learned why salting water for cooking green vegetables is absolutely pointless. It was a fascinating morning, and we only began to very gently graze the surface of this huge and complex subject.

We were a little worried about the afternoon cooking session, as the morning group ran over by at least forty five minutes and left the kitchens looking mildly traumatised. It was a busy prep day that involved a lot of cleaning and sterilising of work surfaces in between making puff pastry from scratch and boning, stuffing and rolling a chicken for a ballotine, as well as finishing off two loaves of walnut and raisin bread. Making puff pastry feels almost routine by this point, but making chicken ballotine is, frankly, kind of a hassle and not an experience I am keen to replicate in my own kitchen.


Thursday was a double dem day. We started with preserving fruit in the morning with Michael, which gave us an excellent excuse to eat scones with raspberry jam, marmalade on sourdough toast, and quince paste with cheese. There is definitely an art to making jams, conserves, and jellies, and my tried and true ‘bung it all in a pan and boil it to death’ method probably isn’t going to work out too well for me at school. In the afternoon, Hannah expertly steered us through the buttery seas of croissant and Danish creation. Everything she made was glorious and it was easy to delude myself into thinking I could get similar results. Did you know that it takes three days to make croissants from scratch the proper, traditional way? Again, I am pretty glad they make us do it at school, because I simply don’t have the time or patience to do it at home myself. Also, I have pretty effectively convinced myself that all the butter I eat at school doesn’t count, somehow.


Friday was an all-day cooking session, and also our last day with our lovely class teacher Heli (sob), as she is off on maternity leave. We began with the seafood feuilletées, one of which is pictured at the top of this page. We saw them in a dem and have made them ourselves, and yet I still have no idea how to pronounce the word feuilletée. Luckily for me, this is a blog, so I don’t have to be able to pronounce it – ha! A victory for ignorance. Anyway, they were puff pastry cases filled with a chervil beurre blanc, samphire, salmon, prawns, and lemon sole, served with more seafood and topped, in my case, with crispy salmon skin. They also had to be very precisely measured. Heli told us that the cut pastry had to be 1.2cm thick, and she literally and genuinely came up to my table, got my ruler, and got down to eye-level with my pastry to determine that it looked ‘a bit more like 1.3cm than 1.2cm’ thick. Advanced term, people. Anyway, my very precisely measured feuilletée made a delicious lunch.


In the afternoon we served our chicken ballotines filled with a dark meat, porcini, and thyme stuffing, with spring greens, chicken and thyme jus, and the potato accompaniment of our choice – I went with dauphine potatoes, which are a mixture of mashed potato, choux pastry, and cheese mixed together and deep fried. Sounds delicious, right? Not going to lie, they were completely lovely and I ate all five pictured on the plate very soon after service. Sadly my ballotine skills need a lot of work but, as mentioned above, ballotining is not my favourite pastime.

And thus ends Week 4. Coming up in Week 5 (this is like a bad TV show trailer now), croissants, sweetbreads, tortellini, and oysters, amongst other things. See you there.



Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 1

During the first-thing-on-a-Monday-morning (why, dear god, why?) wine lecture and tasting that kicked off the Advanced Term, my friend and I were interested to see something unusual being carried into the dining room for us to taste with our Pinotage. ‘Ooh, looks like they’re giving us canapés!’ exclaimed Charlie. And they were, sort of. It’s just that the ‘canapés’ were brandy snaps topped with blue cheese, dark chocolate, and coffee powder, to be enjoyed with red wine that smelled like smoky ash. Surprisingly tasty, actually, although I don’t think I’ll be passing the combination round next time I have people over for dinner. I then spoiled everything by accidentally spilling red wine on poor Will’s lovely shirt. In my defence, we only get a tiny amount of space in wine lectures and it’s tricky for someone as naturally clumsy as me to deal with a textbook, a workbook, writing implements, food, water, and two glasses of wine simultaneously.


This, by the way, is my rambling and evasive introduction to the first in the series of blog posts that will chart my final term at Leiths. The Advanced term, you guys. I should be advanced by now. I sliced my finger open peeling a potato last week. I am so not advanced.

Stumbling on, though, for our first cooking session of the term we made dauphinoise potatoes and the components of an onion tart, ready to be assembled on Tuesday. Getting back into the school kitchens after a break always feels a bit odd: everything is very familiar, and yet you’ve forgotten where little things are kept and you keep wanting to start singing or watching TV in the background like you would do at home. Then someone shouts ‘Service!’ and you snap back to the odd reality of the situation. Apparently we’ve all forgotten how to make shortcrust pastry properly, which is worrying, as it’s one of the first and most basic skills we covered.


Tuesday began with the first proper dem of term, which was on advanced breads and led by the lovely Hannah. The photo you see above is of some delicious craquelins, a Flemish take on a brioche bun made with mixed peel, orange zest, Grand Marnier, and crushed sugar. Along with those, we got to taste pumpernickel bread, brioche loaf, ciabatta, English muffins, and cinnamon raisin bagels. It was a glorious carb fest.

The afternoon cooking session was typically manic. We started by baking and serving the tarts that had begun their lives on Monday. Unfortunately, the egg yolks I used in my custard turned out to be too small and so the tart refused to set, meaning that the end result was not structurally sound. It was still pretty edible though – rich, creamy, spiked with caramelised onions and served with a sharp salad.


We then moved on to lamb fillet, wrapped in pancetta and served with dauphinoise potatoes and ratatouille. Now that we’re in the final term, we’re supposed to be aiming for refinement and restaurant style presentation. Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever eaten at my dinner table will attest to, refinement is not a particular strength of mine. I’m more a ‘make a huge dish of lasagne and let everyone help themselves’ kind of girl. Hence my incredibly shoddy presentation of my lamb dish, shown below for the sake of honesty. It’s definitely something I have to work on.


Wednesday began with Heli’s last dem before she disappears to go on maternity leave (sob). Luckily, it was a good one. Puff pastry is one of those things that I think you only make from scratch while you are at culinary school, because in the rest of the world, even in most restaurants, it’s considered a mad and unnecessary thing to do. I mean, it’s much more effort than buying a pack from a shop, but it’s actually not so bad in comparison to, say, boning a quail (more on which later). Or maybe Heli just made it look easy. Anyway, we got to eat little individual quail pastries and mille feuille, so I’m not complaining.


In the afternoon we boned a quail. A teensy little bird. With lots of teensy little bones. Sense some resentment coming from this direction? Ever boned a quail? No, you haven’t, because no normal person bones a quail. They are tiny, around the size of a clenched fist, and the bones are fragile and break apart when you try to get them out, and there’s so little flesh on the birds anyway the it hardly seems worth the trouble of boning them. One of my biggest flaws is having very little patience: I am easily frustrated and not good at slow, fiddly little tasks. Suffice to say I will not be boning any quails voluntarily in the near future. Having said that, we served them stuffed with spinach and chorizo on a soft polenta and they were completely, surprisingly delicious.

Thursday began with a dem from Michael on confiting, smoking, and preserving. You know, how to make your own breasola, duck ham, tea smoked mackerel, and pickles and so forth, as one does on a Thursday morning. Personally, I love to eat those sorts of things, but the thought of putting them together myself makes me feel a bit nervous. Everything has to be kept at a specific temperature and humidity for preserving and you have to be careful with moisture for confiting and home-made smokers look a bit tricky and… basically, my problems are fear and ignorance. We’ll be doing this sort of thing in class this term though, so I’m going to have to get over it.


In the afternoon, we made a dish of smoked haddock on new potatoes, topped with poached egg and a mustard beurre blanc. The key element here was the mustard beurre blanc. Described by one of my fellow students as ‘the devil’s emulsion’, it’s a tricky sauce to make because it basically contains only butter, and you have to get that butter to form an emulsion with a tiny dribble of reduced vinegar liquid. Unlike in other emulsions such as mayonnaise and hollandaise, there is no handy egg yolk for the fat to bind with, so the whole thing is incredibly unstable and prone to splitting and impossible to bring back once it’s gone. Thankfully, I got lucky on my first try (some people had to make it three or four times), and I am very proud of the thick, shiny sauce you see in the photo above, mostly because it involved about twenty minutes of tense and concentrated hand-whisking, which is the most exercise I’ve done in a month.


Finally, Friday crawled around, and launched right in with a technical dem from Belinda on clearing. For the uninitiated (i.e. me, before the dem), clearing refers to the clearing of liquids so that they are crystal sparkling and transparent, for example in the case of a consommé or a clear jelly, through the use of a raft of egg whites and egg shells. Yeah. We have to do this next week and I am afraid.

We finished the week by making boudin blanc, a white sausage, from scratch, and serving it with a hot and crunchy beetroot and caramelised apple, as pictured above. I have definitely never made my own sausages before. Did you know you can do them with a piping bag if you don’t have a sausage machine? Yes, you’re welcome. I know what you’ll be doing this weekend.

I know you’re bored of hearing this, but I’m so very tired. Getting back into the punishing commute and routine has been tough, and I have definitely had a few falling-asleep-standing-up moments this week. Apologies to the friendly fellow commuter who had to wake me up when my Wednesday evening train got to Oxford because I was asleep with my mouth open and refusing to move. Still, it’s the last term, I’ve made lots of delicious things already, and I fully intend to make the most of Leiths before my time there is up.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 10

Week 10 dawned bright and cold, and brought with it our last full week of Intermediate Term, along with our theory exam and the promise of a practical assessment next week. We get two weeks off for Easter and I am booked up for every single day of the break, but a change is as good as a rest (I mean, it’s not, that’s clearly nonsense, but I’m trying to kid myself), and it will be a pleasure to have a pause on the 5.15am starts and constantly being freezing cold. I intend to spend as much of my time off as possible curled like a lizard in front of the wood-burning stove on our narrowboat, as an antidote to the school’s consistently Arctic air-conditioning and Spring refusing to get its act together.

But first, the last couple of hurdles. Monday morning started inauspiciously when my train from Oxford to London was completely cancelled. This of course happened on the morning of my theory exam, one of two or three days of term when I absolutely had to be in school on time. I had a little panic and then worked out an alternative route which involved a local stopping service and a terrifying mad dash in an anxious crowd of fellow commuters to make a tight connection, followed by the dubious pleasure of being rammed in a standing-room only carriage for a while. I had hoped for a serene hour in my usual seat on the quiet coach of the train to get some revision done, but it was not to be, and though I got to school on time in the end I was already frazzled. Consequently, the theory exam could definitely have gone better.


Luckily, Tuesday began with a skills session. These are always very relaxed as they involve no service times, and we all gently pottered about trying to perfect various techniques. I made bread and flaky pastry, and while my wholemeal beer loaf had a bit of ovenspring, my flaky pastry finally rose up proudly and dispelled last week’s failure from my mind (almost). Also, I now have loads of flaky pastry to make palmiers with. I should probably do something with the leftover flaky pastry I always have other than making palmiers, but unfortunately I find them irresistibly delicious.

On Tuesday afternoon we were treated to a visit from Phil Harrison, the chef from local pub The Anglesea Arms. I have never visited the pub before but now intend to get there at the earliest opportunity, because all the food Phil made us was fresh, seasonal, expertly cooked, and so delicious I was very sad to only be allowed to try a taste of each dish. Phil was a lively and entertaining presenter, who claimed to be very nervous, although I have to say the nerves didn’t translate to the food at all. We had poached duck eggs with Jerusalem artichokes cooked several ways, a glorious turbot dish with wild garlic and morels, saddle of lamb with kidneys and anchovies, and crème brulee with rhubarb and pistachio. Yes, they’re spoiling us. I never eat turbot because it’s frighteningly expensive; Phil told us the fish he was prepping for us to taste cost around £100.

On Wednesday we returned to butchery, a process I usually really enjoy, and luckily this time was no different. We had been given the task of boning out a chicken. I remember when this concept was first broached thinking it sounded mad and completely impossible, but that which can be spoken can be achieved and so on, and sure enough, I was eventually left with an entirely boneless chicken, which I then reformed around a ricotta and herb stuffing, ready for roasting the following day. It’s a bit of a hassle and not something I’m going to be cracking out every weekend, but nonetheless, it was oddly satisfying.

Annie and David then took us for a canapé dem, giving us a whistlestop tour of the twelve incredible canapés they dreamed up for the end of term canapé party on Friday. They managed to pack a huge amount into the afternoon, and we jumped from beetroot meringues with almond and goats’ cheese to bavette steak with onion and thyme to passionfruit brulée on pate sucrée, with several other stops along the way. Canapés, though miniscule, are a huge amount of work, and it’s a real skill to turn out hundreds of little mouthfuls of food that are all delicious, identical, and beautiful, so the whole thing was very impressive.


Thursday morning’s cooking session was basically an exercise in preparing lots of intricate and tasty food which we then got to eat for our lunch. My spaghetti vongole, pictured above, features pasta made, rolled, and cut by my very own hands (well, with a pasta machine, but the pasta was fed through the machine with my very own hands). Below you can see the results of Wednesday’s foray into chicken boning, sliced atop a bed of an Ottolenghi salad containing quinoa, red rice, pistachios, and apricots, amongst other delights.


Our guest dem in the afternoon was given by Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok. I do not know nearly enough about Chinese cuisine, or Asian food in general, so it was a treat to be guided through by an expert. Jeremy’s dim sum demonstration made shaping the intricate little dumplings look easy, but this was entirely down to his professional skill and years of practice, as we realised when we came up to have a go at shaping ourselves and realised just how difficult it is.

Finally, on our last proper day of term (I am not counting the practical exam next week as a proper day) we helped prep the canapés for the evening’s party – I got to pipe out hundreds of little beetroot meringues – and finally were told what we will be cooking for our end of term assessment. In case you’re curious, we’ve been tasked with cheese soufflés, sea bream (scaled, gutted, and filleted) with sauce vierge and skordalia, vanilla bavarois with raspberry coulis, and a loaf of beer bread. Sounds like quite a big ask for a four hour exam, right? I’m off to go and panic quietly in a corner. I hope you all have weekends far more relaxing than mine is about to be. See you on the other side.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 9

Have I forgotten what March is like or is it really chilly for March? It’s below freezing when I leave the house in the mornings, and I’m still having to pour hot water over my car before I can drive to the station. It feels colder than winter did, and yet it’s supposedly spring.

I felt like I’d entered a slightly altered parallel universe this week when I stepped onto my very familiar morning train and found it not so familiar – instead of the blue and pink colour scheme to which I had become accustomed, everything was green and grey. I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when the trains are re-carpeted, re-painted, and re-upholstered seemingly overnight it’s oddly disorientating.

After I’d gotten over whining about the cold and the trains, our week began with a visit from Michael North, the Michelin-starred chef patron of The Nut Tree. I was hugely excited about this because The Nut Tree is one of my favourite restaurants in Oxfordshire and it was so lovely to have someone from my area to come and visit rather than another London-based chef. Don’t get me wrong, all of our guest lecturers from London have been great, but it’s wonderful to have a reminder that there is a culinary scene out in ‘the sticks’ too. Michael broke down a haunch of venison for us and made a couple of stunning dishes with it which were deceptively simple but big on flavour and precise technique. An inspiring masterclass.

The afternoon brought us a fairly relaxed cooking session, as we were basically prepping things for dishes in the week ahead and therefore didn’t have any specific service times. This always means we tend to chat and dawdle more and inevitably end up leaving the kitchen late, but it’s still good sometimes to slightly slow the frenetic energy of the kitchen and just focus on making something well. We made flaky pastry from scratch as well as fillings for the savoury tarts that the pastries were destined for, and began the process of making pear sorbet. I always forget how delicious pears can be – I think of them as a bit bland – but the sorbet mix was so good that I started eating spoonfuls of the stuff and had to have it dragged away from me so I’d have enough left to freeze. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) it’s a surprisingly easy sorbet to make and can be done at home without an ice cream maker.


On Tuesday we started off with a wine lecture by Laura Clay on varieties of white grapes we hadn’t yet covered, and then moved on to a cooking session that went, for me, fairly disastrously. My flaky pastry, which I had spent Monday afternoon lovingly making, completely failed to rise when baked. Making flaky pastry is a convoluted six stage process, and it’s disheartening to put all that work into something only to see it fail, especially when you have no idea what went wrong: it seemed totally fine all the way through until it came out of the oven. I got an awful mark for my pastry, but my tart filling of roasted butternut squash, feta, and a walnut and gruyere pesto was pronounced delicious. This was also the day another student – who is completely lovely – very accidentally whacked me fairly hard in the face with a big commercial roll of cling film. I’m not even sure how it happened, but I had to spend twenty minutes holding ice over my eye to try to stop it from bruising.


Unfortunately, Wednesday wasn’t much better. We were making hot cross buns and, for some reason, my dough rose much more slowly than everyone else’s, meaning I put them in the oven very late and it ran into my service time for our pear desserts. When I finally got them served my haste showed through, as my crosses were uneven and wonky. I had such grand plans for my pear plate – a scoop of pear sorbet, a tuille biscuit and crumb, flaked almonds, pear crisps, and a salted caramel sauce – but I was such a ball of stress that I ended up randomly blobbing my caramel onto the plate, under-drying my pear crisps so that they weren’t crisp enough, and making my tuilles too thin. All in all, very disappointing.


Wednesday also brought us a visit from Louise Talbot, a professional cheese maker, who gave us a demonstration on how to make all sorts of different cheeses, and butter, from scratch at home. We got to sample some incredible home-made halloumi and mozzarella, and the halloumi in particular was so much better than any version I’ve ever eaten from a supermarket; light, soft, and perfectly balanced.

Hand-stretching mozzarella.

Thursday started with a wine revision class, in which we attempted to identify different wines in a blind tasting. Normally we are given a tasting sheet which includes the details of each wine we’re given, along with the bottles themselves. This time the tasting sheet was disconcertingly blank, and the bottles were shrouded in mysterious black velvet cloaks. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that I am very bad at identfying types of wine from a blind tasting. Nonetheless, the session with Richard was fun, and it was definitely useful to go over all we’ve covered this term, as there is a huge amount of material and I keep getting my Muscat and Muscadet and Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé mixed up.

We were a bit nervous about our afternoon cooking session when we saw that the morning group, who are usually pretty speedy, were leaving half an hour later than usual, which is never a good omen. We were making espagnole sauce, salt and pepper squid, and filleting and dressing the huge trout that we had poached the day before. Luckily, everything went much more smoothly than expected. My salt and pepper squid was just about acceptable, apart from my terrible knife skills, which need work.


Leiths is not averse to the occasional foray back into the seventies, and so it came about that we found ourselves poaching, filleting, and dressing an entire trout. It’s actually much trickier than it looks. Filleting such a big fish once it’s cooked is a challenge, as the flesh is very delicate, and getting all the bones out and reforming the fish requires some careful manoeuvring. Luckily, my partner Laura and I had some success with this retro classic, and our fish was pronounced perfectly cooked and beautifully dressed with its Tudor style watercress collar. The whole process was oddly satisfying, and, lucky for me, Laura doesn’t isn’t keen on trout and so I got to take all of that lovely fish home with me. Fish cakes, curries, pies… the possibilities are limitless. James is going to have to put up with eating a lot of trout.


On Friday morning we had a visit from Sue and Sarah who gave us a very informative and entertaining talk on setting up a catering business. I must say, I’m not sure I could handle the pressure and the sheer volume of logistics becoming a self-employed caterer seems to require, but Sue and Sarah were very knowledgeable and made us all laugh with tales of mayhem and mishaps that I perhaps shouldn’t share on this blog.

Please excuse the blurry photo – my hands were shaking with adrenaline/fear.

I was completely dreading Friday afternoon because it held our mock practical exam in store, bringing with it the harsh reminder that the real thing is less than two weeks away. Historically I have performed terribly in mock practicals, so I entered the kitchen full of anxiety and dread. We were tasked to make a cheddar and spinach souffle, and a venison steak with spring greens, a peppercorn sauce, and a potato accompaniment of our choice. In the end, I hit all the service times, but my soufflé was overcooked, my fondant potatoes were undercooked, and the outside of my venison was apparently scorched. Sigh. Not much more to be said there. No good being fast if you food isn’t up to standard.

And so concludes, incredibly, Week 9. Next week we have our theory exam, and the week after that our practical exams, and then we’ve lumbered through the Intermediate Term and have Advanced bearing down upon us.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 5

Halfway, somehow. Week 5 of the Intermediate Term marks the halfway point of the course. We’ve done this much, and now we’ll do it all again.

I really feel like I should know what I’m doing by now.

Week 5 was brought in by the charming Storm Imogen, which caused chaos across the rail network and made me seriously grumpy about trudging towards my car through a vicious downpour in the pitch black on Monday morning. It didn’t seem like a particularly auspicious start to a day of all day cooking, but I was cheered by the thought of Chelsea buns and steak, as any reasonable person would be.

We’re required to cook our steaks medium-rare at school, and I am terrible at it. This is because I like my steaks blue, and it goes against every instinct I have to take them further, thus I always end up pulling them out of the pan too early by mistake. My first triumph of Monday, then, was accurately cooking my steak to medium-rare for the first time. Then I made my béarnaise too thin. Can’t win them all.


The day fell apart a bit after the steak, I must admit. My problems started when another student accidentally took my pastry from the fridge and used it, meaning I had to make another batch, leaving me way behind and playing catch-up for the rest of the session. Then we had a fire drill just as everyone was putting their pastry cases in the oven. Like anywhere else, when the fire alarm goes at Leiths you have to stop what you’re doing and leave the building, even if you’ve just put your delicate pastry cases on to bake. The whole school arrayed on the street – half of us in full whites – was quite a sight for the passers-by. My arms are crossed and my smile is forced because it was absolutely freezing outside.


I did feel like I was rather limping to the finish line, but I managed to serve my tarts and Chelsea buns in the end. My pastry was over-baked and my Chelsea buns were over-glazed (according to Leiths – I love them ‘over-glazed’ and would ideally add even more glaze than shown in the photo below), but I got everything up for service, which felt like a small victory in and of itself. I am in no way artistic, and arranging delicate fruit prettily on patisserie is not my main strength, as you can see. Some of my fellow students produced absolutely beautiful tarts though, and it was lovely to have a nosey around the kitchen and see what everyone else had come up with.


I was a bundle of tiredness by the time I headed home on Monday – being on your feet and cooking from 9am-5pm will do that to you – but unfortunately Storm Imogen was still out to play, and my train home to Oxford got cancelled due to debris on the line. I ended up having to take a couple of different trains on different lines to wend my way through deepest, darkest, windy-est Oxfordshire on the little local stopping services, and became very grateful for the Chelsea buns in my backpack.

I am pretty used to commuting at this stage and am largely blind to the foibles of my fellow travellers, but on Tuesday morning the man sitting opposite me on the train took out a toothbrush and toothpaste and started brushing his teeth. Just sitting in his seat. Using a coffee cup as a makeshift sink. My look of absolute incredulity went unnoticed and he proceeded to take off his shoes and put on huge, fluffy socks.


Nothing else as odd as that happened during the rest of the day. We started off with another wine lecture, this time on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and then moved on to ‘the liver day’, which seemed a shame because to everyone else it was Pancake Day and I think it could have been an excellent excuse to get some crêpe practice done. Instead we made chicken liver pâté and liver with bacon, onions, and cabbage. As mentioned in previous posts, I am all about the offal, so I was fine with this in principle. Unfortunately. I completely messed it up. The chicken liver pâté was for later in the week, but in the dish pictured above apparently my liver, bacon, and cabbage were all undercooked. At least I was wrong in consistent way.

We got a break from the kitchens on Wednesday when Peter and Graham came back for our second Meat Appreciation session. Once again, it was all about the offal. Well, at least mostly about the offal – it seems to be one of the themes from this term. A pig’s head made a brief appearance, and another very large chunk of cow was dismantled. I love watching all this and find it fascinating, so it was a happy day. I also purchased some feather blade steak and some duck legs, and journeyed home with a backpack full of meat, something which seems to be happening with increasing regularity.


We knew Thursday morning’s dem would be good when we walked into the dem room and were embraced by the warm smell of lots and lots of pastry. Hannah and Jane were treating us to flaky and hot water crust pastry in many guises. I must admit, I’m a bit nervous about making flaky and puff pastry for myself when the time comes, but they made it look simple and everything we tasted – including palmiers, a red onion and goats’ cheese tart, a steak and Guinness pie, pork pies, and duck pies, and probably some more stuff that’s been lost in the buttery haze of memories – was incredible. The making of flaky pastry requires you to be patient and precise, neither of which skills comes naturally to me, but the results are undeniably impressive, and I must admit that I kind of want to become the sort of terrible person who can say they make their own puff pastry in a vaguely smug way.


The afternoon cooking session was a bit of an odd one because, aside from making a quick soda bread, we were all doing different things to practice various skills and techniques we needed to work on. It was a lovely, relaxed few hours in the kitchen, free from the pressure of service times and harsh marking. I was turning vegetables – can you tell I’ve been having some issues with that? – and cooking some guinea fowl with a pan sauce. My sauce was too thin, but finally, finally, I did something right with meat cooking and my guinea fowl was pronounced perfect.


I spent Friday morning’s train ride becoming progressively more annoyed as two American tourists sitting in front of me in the quiet carriage talked loudly and took selfies for the entire hour-long journey. I wish I had the nerve to confront people who are behaving unreasonably on public transport but I never quite muster up the courage. Seriously though: it’s an eight-carriage train with ONE quiet carriage covered in bright pink signs denoting its status, and there must be some special kind of retribution for people that pick that carriage to have loud conversations about sports.

Sorry, I’m done.

Friday morning’s dem was on gateaux. Cake on a Friday morning: excellent timetabling decision. We’ll be making our own gateaux in class – more on that next week, I imagine – so it seemed a good idea to pay attention while Ansobe showed us how to make the perfect Genoise sponge, how to divide it into layers with cotton, how to make meringue-based buttercream, and other such crucial life skills. Obviously the best bit was at the end when we got to eat everything.

The afternoon was less gentle and less Friday-ish. We had to do a short order prawn dish – the less said the better, really, as it appears I am awful at short order – and a duck with cherry almond sauce dish with accompaniments of our choice. I went for potato and celeriac dauphinoise and kale, and as you can see, my presentation seriously let me down again. I did eat it all, though, and even if it looked a mess it did taste pretty great. Mind you, I was so hungry that I definitely wasn’t being picky. This session was also where I got my most ridiculous injury yet. In the rush to service, a fellow student and I half-collided, and her chef’s knife fell off her chopping board and onto my leg. The tip of the knife cut me through my trousers and my very thick kitchen socks: I barely acknowledged it at the time, bar a brief yelp of pain and surprise, but after the rush of service I discovered blood running down my leg. I was quite lucky it was not worse and also quite lucky that I am always freezing cold so wear huge hiking socks all the time.


And here we are, waving a goodbye to Week 5 which is, if not quite fond, tinged with weary affection. In lieu of half term we are being treated to a glorious four day weekend, so I’m off to, er, do some more school work. Culinary school: loads of fun; definitely not glamorous.


Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 2

So, the first week at a new school doesn’t really count, yes? I mean, you have to get through all the introductions and talks about where to find things, and you don’t know anyone, and you spend most of the time too scared and confused to take things in properly (please tell me that isn’t just me?), so it’s only in Week 2 when you can really expect to get a proper sense of your new routine. That’s what I told myself, anyway, to excuse the fact that during the first week I was so overwhelmed that I struggled to cook things I have been making for years without fuss or incident.

Week 2 was our first full week, and our group got to cook in the mornings, which was a massive relief for me as it means we leave school on time after dems at the end of the day and I get to catch a train which gets me home for 7.15pm instead of 8pm: believe me, when you have to go to bed at 10pm to get up at 5.30am, those extra 45 minutes make a world of difference. The morning trains are shockingly inconsistent. I wrote half of this on one that was delayed for 25 minutes and sat stock still near Radley for ages for no apparent reason, meaning that when I got to London I had to race to get to school, into my whites, and to the kitchen on time. But it’s all good. Really. Every time I get stressed or feel tired, I remind myself what I am getting to do and that I could still be at my old desk job, and then everything feels a bit better.

The only slight drawback to the brand new dawn of Week 2 is that this week it has decided to start raining. A lot. Last week was unseasonably, ridiculously beautiful, but now we’re settling into a standard rainy English October. Believe me, you can get properly wet on a 4.5 mile cycle through London. Soaked quite literally to the skin, through waterproofs. Monday was a bit of a dark day that saw me, dripping rainwater and smelling like a dog that’s swum through a river, crouched on the corridor floor of the train back to Oxford because there were no seats left.

Trains are so soul-draining that apparently a really quite extensive bar service has become necessary.

Anyway, enough moaning. Let’s get on to the good stuff. The food.

Every week we will be cooking in a different table group of four, and we also rotate between three kitchens, so it really was all change on Monday. We had a different class teacher every single day for the first week and most of the second. So what with new people, new kitchens, and new teachers, it really feels like we’re getting to experience lots of different ways of working at the start of the course, which I am sure will stand us in good stead later.

I looked at the schedule for this week initially and thought ‘Ha, they don’t really expect us to make all that? In one session? When last week we struggled to get two salads done in three hours? Haaaa.’ Well, they did expect us to make all that. And it’s been great. Mostly. Our table of four has been working well together this week and it actually feels like we’ve been super-speedy. Well, in comparison to last week, anyway, which isn’t saying a great deal.

On Monday the dishes we made included a gorgeous sweet potato, chilli, and lime soup. Now, I know my bowl below doesn’t look so gorgeous, but that’s because I keep forgetting to take photos of my food before it’s tasted and so by the time I remembered all the crème fraiche which I had artfully drizzled on the top had been stirred in. But I doggedly decided to take a picture of it looking rubbish anyway to prove I had actually cooked something. See? I made a thing!

Messy bowl of yummy soup. I definitely did not serve it like this.

Below is my avocado, mozzarella, and tomato salad, which, er, I actually did serve like that. Too many olives, not enough centre height, oversized portion, too much dressing, clumsy and thick slices… I really need to work on my presentation. I can already tell that it’s going to be something I’m going to struggle with. I am not naturally dainty and precise: I am cackhanded, clumsy, and prone to panicking. I only realise how tense I have been in the school kitchens when it comes to plating up and my hands are literally shaking. This is why I could never be a TV chef (yes, that, and a thousand other reasons, I hear you cry).

At least it tasted nice. It was my lunch.

On Wednesday our pastry was examined for the third time in two weeks. I may have had a slight ‘incident’ with this pastry that saw it somehow fly out of my hands and onto the floor. I still have no idea how this happened. But, in response to my panicked whisperings of ‘Oh f***, oh f***, oh f***’, our teacher that day shouted ‘Two second rule, it’s fine, pick it up and carry on!’, so carry on I did. I mean, it did get baked at 200C for ages afterwards so I hope that killed any floor bacteria. I ate quite a lot of it and I’m still alive. Anyway, flinging pastry onto the floor seems to be a great new technique, because this was my most successful attempt at pastry by far. My little quiche was the best thing I have yet made, and you have no idea how good it felt to get positive feedback. So I shall consider chucking future attempts at pastry onto the floor with gusto and confidence.

Leek, bacon, and parmesan quiche. Yes, I forgot to take a photo of it before service. Again.

On Thursday, it was chicken. Much chicken. Many chickens. Chicken everywhere. We each fully jointed two chickens at the start of class (just, you know, gently easing us in), and I was once again reminded of one of my key discoveries at Leiths, which is this: yes, you may have been doing something for many years, but you’ve probably been doing it wrong. Okay, I’m exaggerating – not wrong, per se, but certainly not the Leiths way. I have jointed chickens before, but in a slightly haphazard ‘Ah, that’ll probably be alright. Where did I put my glass of wine?’ manner, which doesn’t really pass muster at culinary school. I mean, the Leiths way is very efficient and precise and I am glad I know it, but bloody hell, it was tricky at first. Lots of ‘cut here, definitely not here, rotate, disclocate, turn over, use this joint…’. I’m not good at IKEA shelves either.

The reasons it looks like there is a lot of chicken on this plate is that there is a lot of chicken on this plate. It’s an entire jointed chicken.

Finally, on Friday, we each made a French omelette and a full roast pork lunch with all the trimmings as a table. The less said about my omelette, the better. Seriously, I’m not talking about it. The pork was a triumph, though, and made for a very delicious lunch indeed. We worked well as a team and completed the task with a minimal amount of fuss and panic. If you’d have told me at the start of last week that we’d have progressed so much in such a short space of time I would have had my doubts. But look!

Pork, roast potatoes, parsnips, and apple and sage sauce. There were also green beans and carrot batons but service was very quick and I didn’t have time to faff around getting them in shot.

Of course, it’s not all about me messing everything up in the kitchen. Oh no. We also get to see how it should be done properly.

We started the week on a dem high, with a session on vegetables from Heli and David. I mean, look at the spread at the top of the page. Beautiful, no? It was like being in an artisan greengrocer. A very informative and interactive artisan greengrocer. They made us countless recipes (as in, I literally can’t count – maybe ten?) and I feel like we only just scratched the surface of the subject. We also had a dem on sauces on Tuesday with Mike which began with the vital building blocks of making a roux and ended with us feasting (as much as you can feat on bitesize portions, anyway) on macaroni cheese, spaghetti carbonara, and chilli crab linguini, and a great chicken dem on Wednesday with the amazing Belinda – who was stunningly calm in the face of making seven or eight chicken dishes in a single afternoon.

Then, on Thursday, Ansobe taught us about the importance of organisation and multitasking by literally making three roast dinners with all the trimmings all at once, without having a panic attack (that last bit is where I would fall down). There was moist roast chicken, succulent roast pork, tender roast beef, and some perfectly cooked pigs in blankets, amongst other things. This was also, somehow, the first time I tried bread sauce, and it was glorious. I haven’t been avoiding it up until now, it just hasn’t come up in my life. I always thought it sounded a bit odd. Sauce made of… bread? That can’t be right, surely? Well, I was wrong. It was so right. I am sorry that I ever doubted bread sauce.

I think that by Friday the teachers sensed that we were reaching overload and needed a fairly kind afternoon dem, so Phil, working solo, demonstrated an array of delicious baked goods, including white bread, soda bread, foccacia, cookies, and brownies. There was a polite (ish) scrum at the end when he called us all up to the front for samples, and everything tasted wonderful.

So here I am on a Friday afternoon at the end of my second week of culinary school. I am typing this from an absolutely packed train, delicious brownies in my tummy and a lot of frozen chicken in my backpack, with two glorious free days stretching like a gentle river ahead of me. Of course, all I’m going to be doing all weekend is cooking. But at least no one will be marking me, and I can sing loudly and tunelessly to myself in my very own kitchen.