Simple soups are great for the January slump, when you don’t want to be fussing about making anything too complicated, but you need a warming and comforting bowl of food. This spiced parsnip and apple soup will do the job: make a batch and keep it in your fridge, ready to heat up for an easy meal. The addition of lentils make it hearty and filling, and the spices make it a bit more interesting than its plainer cousins.
Bramley apples are the definitive English cooking apple: sour and juicy, they work very well here, lending a little sweetness when cooked and complementing the soup’s spices. Parsnips are one of my favourite root vegetables. Cheap, readily available, easy to prepare, with a satisfying nutty flavour, they are wonderful in soups. Both apples and parsnips are in season in January, and should be easy to find and at their best for this parsnip and apple soup.
Generous knob of butter
1 white onion, thinly sliced
600g parsnips, peeled and cut into roughly 2cm chunks
2 tbsp curry powder (or less, if you don’t like your food a bit spicy)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150g dry red lentils
300g Bramley apples, peeled and cut into chunks
1 litre vegetable stock
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh coriander and cream, to finish
Melt the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat until foaming. Add the onion and the parsnips. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add spices, garlic, lentils, and apples. Stir well, and cook for 2 minutes. Pour the stock into the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until the parsnips are totally soft.
Blitz the soup until smooth, either with a stick blender or in a food processor. Stir in the cream. Taste and season. Serve with a drizzle more cream and some chopped fresh coriander, if you like.
This little packet of miso ramen noodles from Yutaka is a godsend if you’re after a quick and healthy meal. You know those days when you need to eat dinner within ten minutes or you’re going to have a bit of a meltdown? No? Just me? Anyway, even if you’re able to deal with hunger like a reasonable adult, these miso ramen noodles are a great meal option. The noodles cook within three minutes, and come with a little sachet of miso, so you’re pretty much ready to go.
I’ve worked with Yutaka before, and I love their products. If, like me, you don’t know that much about Japanese food, their ingredients are a great start. They’re very accessible, and often contain handy recipe instructions on the packaging.
Obviously, the joy of this sort of dish is that you can add whatever you like. Here, I have gone for tofu and asparagus, along with the base flavours of chilli, ginger, and coriander, for a light meal. However, you could add leftover cooked chicken or pork, or top with a soft-boiled egg, or add any vegetables you like. This is a great way to use up odds and ends in the fridge.
This recipe will make one bowl of noodle soup – you can scale up as needed depending on how many people you’re feeding.
I’ve added some soy and mirin to my miso soup base for an additional flavour dimension, but if you want to make the recipe even simpler you can skip those too.
1 bundle of Yutaka noodles
1 sachet of Yutaka miso soup
a dash of soy sauce
a dash of mirin
1/2 a fresh chilli, finely chopped
handful of asparagus, finely chopped
small chunk of ginger, grated
1/2 block of tofu, cubed
handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped
Pop your noodles into a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes to cook. Put your sachet of miso into your serving bowl, and add boiling water from the kettle to fill the bowl. Taste, and add soy and mirin if you like.
Chop your chilli and asparagus, grate your ginger, and cube your tofu. Finely chop your coriander. Drain your noodles when cooked.
Add all of your ingredients to your soup bowl, and season to taste if you feel it’s needed. Eat immediately, while it’s hot.
This recipe is not revolutionary, or glamorous. It’s not authentic, or the definitive version of anything. It’s not even seasonally appropriate, now that I can actually see the sun, and some daffodils, and have abandoned one outdoor layer (but still wear a coat at all times, obviously, because I’m not some kind of crazy risk-taking daredevil who wishes to court hypothermia). It is only something simple that James likes. He asked me to write it down for him, and since I was writing it down for him anyway I thought I may as well write it down for you too. Also, apparently this blog now only covers soup and macarons.
This is the kind of chicken soup that takes a little time, and a little effort, although it isn’t at all difficult. It is genuinely healthy (something that can be said of very few things on this blog). It requires care, and attention. It is the sort of thing I make for people when I want to show them kindness in some way (I am only able to show kindness through the making of soup, bread, and cake, all of which I randomly leave on the doorsteps of friends in the neighbourhood because social interaction requires too much effort and I am useless). It is supposedly the sort of thing one uses to cure illness, and though this claim has no scientific basis that I am aware of, I merrily presume it is true anyway and make it for those who seem to be somehow ailing. This is why I would make a terrible doctor.
Notes: This recipe is obviously infinitely adaptable, so go ahead and add whatever vegetables and herbs you have kicking about. This is just my version among thousands of others.
You will need a large saucepan or pot that you can comfortably fit a whole chicken into.
1 whole chicken (I usually get one that will feed three-four people even if I am cooking for two, so that we have plenty leftover)
3 large carrots
2 stalks celery
1 white onion
a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 bay leaves (fresh or dry, either is fine)
handful of dry black peppercorns
1 fresh red chilli
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
1 nest of dried noodles (egg or rice, or whatever you have, is fine)
Roughly chop 1 carrot, both stalks of celery, and the onion into large pieces – no need to peel. Put them in the bottom of your largest saucepan or pot, along with the stalks (not the leaves) from the bunch of parsley, the bay leaves, and the peppercorns. Take any string and packaging off the whole chicken and add it to the pot, then cover the bird with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt. Put the pot on a low heat, cover, and bring the water to a gentle poaching simmer. Let the chicken poach for around 1 – 1.5 hours until cooked through, checking it occasionally to make sure it is still covered in water. When cooked, the legs should be loose and completely floppy, coming away from the chicken when tugged.
Remove all of the chicken from the pot, and turn the heat on the pan up to high, letting the liquid reduce. Meanwhile, strip all of the meat from your chicken and set it aside – you will either have to wait for it to cool slightly, or wear gloves. Discard the skin, and place the chicken bones back into the pot. Bubble the stock away for another half hour or so, tasting occasionally – it should be full of chicken-y goodness.
Meanwhile, prep the rest of the soup ingredients. Roughly chop your parsley leaves, peel your shallots and cut them into slim rings, chop your chilli (seeds in or out, up to you), and peel and dice your ginger. When your stock is reduced and tastes delicious, strain it and discard the original vegetables and the chicken bones. Put the stock back into the original pot.
Finally, add your shallots, chilli, and ginger to the liquid. Cook gently for 10 minutes, then add your chicken meat and your noodles. Cook until the noodles are soft (usually around four minutes). Take your soup off the heat, stir in your chopped parsley, and taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as required.
It’s not often I can say this about a recipe featured on this blog, but this is vegan, gluten free, and healthy. Don’t worry, I have not abandoned the baked goods. But James and I do not live on macarons and pie alone (oh, if only), and plenty of savoury food comes out of my kitchen. Some of it is even healthy. I just don’t tend to feature it on this blog, because I find it less interesting. Also because so much of the savoury food I make is thrown together with whatever is lying around in the fridge, in a very ‘meh, it’ll probably be fine, chuck it in’ sort of a way, and so it’s hard for me to recreate dishes again, let alone write down how I made them.
However, the recipe for this soup was specifically requested (I know, how exciting) after I made it for a group at a yoga retreat, and so I recreated it and actually bothered to write down what I was doing, and here it is. Apologies for the rather uninspiring photos – they were taken at speed in the dying light. Still though, look how healthy it all looks…
It’s soup, so you can play it a bit fast and loose with the ingredients. Only one onion left? No problem. Got some herbs you want to throw in there? Go for it. Not a vegetarian and want to go mad and add bacon? Live your best life today.
1 large butternut squash
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
2 lemongrass stalks
80g Thai red curry paste (about 1/2 a small jar, or make your own if you’d rather, or add more to taste)
1 can full fat coconut milk
750ml vegetable stock
1 chilli (optional – to garnish)
Preheat your oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 6. Peel your squash and cut it into roughly finger sized chunks, discarding the seeds. Pop it in a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast for around 40 minutes – you want it meltingly soft and just charring around the edges, for flavour.
While that’s happening, slice your onions, peel and roughly chop your ginger, and bash your lemongrass stalks a bit so they release flavour. Put a generous slug of olive oil in your largest saucepan and cook the onions, ginger, and lemongrass down together, until the onions are soft. Add your curry paste and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until everything smells amazing. Tip in your butternut squash, coconut milk (saving a couple of tbsp if you want some to drizzle on the soup), and stock. Stir it all together and then simmer for around 10 minutes. Find the lemongrass and pull it out.
When everything is all happily cooked down and amalgamated, blitz your soup until smooth – I use a stick blender, but a liquidiser or food processor will do the job. Add your lime juice, give it a good stir, and check the seasoning. It should be rich and warming, with a lingering chilli kick at the end. Add more salt, pepper, or lime as needed. Serve hot, drizzled with the leftover coconut milk if you’re feeling artistic, and add some chopped chilli or extra chilli sauce if you want it to have more spice.
It wasn’t a great week. I think it’s important to be able to say that. Yes, I am doing something amazing (and expensive), and yes, I am very lucky to be able to do the course that I have wanted to do literally for years. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t really hard, and it doesn’t mean that every week is going to go my way. Just because you are lucky, and happy, it doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to also feel fed up, and exhausted. There have been a few things that have made it challenging over the last few days: the sudden cold snap; the fact that this week’s schedule has been brutally overloaded; excessive train delays; having no time to unwind; feeling like nearly everything I cooked went wrong. I embarked upon Week 2 with a new rule: no cycling in sub-zero temperatures. It’s just no fun. A friend at Leiths came off her bike on ice and dislocated her shoulder last week and that decided it for me. If it is literally freezing, I am getting the tube, and then walking twenty minutes from Goldhawk Road to school. This new rule saw me crammed onto the Hammersmith and City line with many rambunctious school children on Tuesday, grateful for the heating but less grateful for one of the more hyperactive children jumping on my foot.
Monday morning was what our teacher for the day called ‘a bit hectic’ and I call ‘fairly close to madness’. I think, as a group, we used every single pan in the kitchen. We made French onion soup with Gruyère croûtons and pot-roast partridge on a bed of puy lentils with pancetta and cavalo nero. Soups seem to be treating me kindly thusfar this term: last week, a well-reviewed artichoke soup; this week, a well-reviewed French onion soup. Apparently the key is to cook the onions absolutely to death, which is what I did, so there you go. Wander away from your pan and forget you left your onions on a high heat and you too can achieve culinary brilliance.
After those dizzying heights of praise, the partridge dish could only pale in comparison, so it was no surprise to me when my bird was pronounced both over-cooked and under-cooked in different areas (this is why it is very tricky to win with partridge). I was still drifting around on a cloud of oniony-happiness though, so I didn’t mind too much. We then had a lovely afternoon of wine tasting after which I managed to race off and catch the early train and get home… well, not before dark, that would be madness, but before 7pm, which is pretty good going. Monday, my friend, you were good to me. Unfortunately, it was sort of downhill after that.
Tuesday morning didn’t get off to a particularly auspicious start, due in no small part to the fact that my car doors were iced shut, making driving to Oxford station a tad problematic. I have a scraper and de-icing spray, but keep both of these things – perhaps unwisely, I now think – in the car, to which I could not gain access. My approach was to swear, panic, run inside and get jugs of hot water to pour over the car doors until I could prise them open. I am sure there are better was to deal with this problem, but it was 6.30am and cold and confusing. I then drove as fast as I (safely and legally, naturally) could to the station and sprinted for my train, which was very full because the one before it had been cancelled.
So I arrived at school on Tuesday in a slightly less than optimum mood, only to be thrust into another mad morning in which we used all the pans again. I think that’s just how it’s going to be from now on. I made aubergine salad with parmesan and chive crisps (above – very nice) and skate wing with caper beurre noisette and turned vegetables (the less said on this, the better. Especially regarding turned vegetables. See those poor, innocent vegetables that have been inexpertly hacked to bits below? They should look like even, smooth barrels. Oh dear).
Luckily, the afternoon dem was on enriched breads, with Hannah. Hannah is excellent and enriched breads are excellent and I spent a very happy afternoon drooling over pecan sticky buns and beer bread and nabbing as many samples as I reasonably could. The picture at the top of this post is of the bread rolls she made, by the way, which is why they are good.
Unfortunately, Wednesday properly kicked my arse. In the morning I left five minutes early and came out with a jug of hot water to pour over the icy car, feeling all smug and prepared. I got to my train in a leisurely fashion and it was all going swimmingly until the train stopped. Outside Maidenhead. For a very long time. ‘Signalling problems’ was the official excuse, but that’s what they always say. How hard can it really be to make functioning train signals? I mean, based on my commuting experience, really hard, but why? I’m genuinely asking: can anyone explain to me why train signals break all the time? Are they not essentially traffic lights? I mean, we can pull an atom apart. Traffic lights work pretty reliably. Why is this difficult?
Anyway, the train arrived into Paddington 50 minutes behind schedule. I wasn’t cycling, because of the ice, so I sprinted to the tube and then later ran the mile or so from Goldhawk Road station to school, leapt into my whites, and arrived in class just as everyone was gathering for the register. This meant I missed the opportunity to do my cooking prep and was on the back foot for the entire morning. That’s my excuse, anyway, for why everything was awful. We made white dinner rolls and a sea bass dish with pickled shallots, Pernod sauce, spinach, and clams, which was delicious, but sickeningly complicated and designed in a way which involved the maximum amount of mess and fuss. We’re supposed to be out of the kitchens by 1pm. That day, I got out at 1.50pm, leaving me ten minutes to fly downstairs and change before the 2pm dem, having not had lunch or a sit down or even three minutes to not be dashing about ever since my train got in late to Paddington.
The afternoon dem was on meringue cuite and gelatine. We had been told in advance that this dem would be technical and it would be important for us to be attentive, so it was unfortunate that I was shattered and too stressed to properly understand what was going on. We got fed, though, which was good because we’d not had time for lunch. Basically I sat there dazed and confused and perked up a bit whenever anyone handed me a mousse to taste.
I know this is becoming a litany of whinging, so I’m sorry to say that Thursday wasn’t great either. Any session in which we have to cook three different things under tight time constraints is always tricky, and we were doing cold lemon soufflé, meringue cuite, and a cellophane noodle stir fry. Suffice to say I haven’t got any pictures of my stir fry because it looked dreadful, lots of people had to remake the soufflé and the meringue, we were given ‘a bit of a talking to’ as a class, and we got out late again. The afternoon dem was also on soufflés, and I am fairly sure that was the night that images of sunken soufflés started to haunt my dreams.
On Friday morning we made twice-baked goat’s cheese and thyme soufflés (see picture below – I was told mine were both too dense and not structurally sound enough, making them wrong in an improbable way), and served our cold lemon soufflés from the day before with blueberry compote and meringues. Unfortunately, my lemon soufflé was sitting out for so long that by the time it was seen it has started to melt and all the blueberry compote had run into it and it just looked terrible. It was also apparently too sweet and (this seems to be my issue with all soufflé-making) too dense.
I was feeling pretty exhausted and dispirited when it came to the Friday afternoon dem, and just wanted to go home and eat brownies for dinner. Luckily, the dem was on French pastries and led by Heli, and it actually managed to perk me up. All of the pastries we tried were delicious and the whole thing was much more up my street than the soufflés of terror. The picture below is of a beautiful little tart filled with crème patisserie and topped with plums that Heli made (I mean, obviously I didn’t make that) amongst other various delights.
So I am limping into the weekend feeling pretty pummelled by Week 2. It’s hard to not be doing very well at something you care a lot about, and it can be a bit spirit-crushing to put loads of hours and effort into something only to be told it isn’t serveable. Nonetheless, even on the hard days, I remind myself that I would much, much rather be at Leiths than back behind a desk at an admin job, and that nothing worth having comes easily. Hopefully, trying very, very hard and getting back up over and over again is what is going to make me a good cook at the end of this year: I’m at Leiths to learn, and if I was perfect already then I wouldn’t need to be there.
Now I am going to go out and order a massive burger for lunch. A proper one, with loads of bacon and cheese and stuff. And maybe a gin and tonic.
It feels very odd be writing ‘Intermediate Term’, and odder still to have cycled all the way back to Week 1. A new beginning – a new term – and yet a revisiting of the past: we’re back in first week once more. First days back anywhere tend to share similar features, be they at school, university, or work: the forgetting of passwords and door codes; repeated conversations and rehearsed questions and answers about what you did with your holidays; the unfamiliar familiarity of an old routine which you slip back into like a worn pair of winter boots. You’re buoyed by the limitless opportunity of a new term, year, or season which you’ve not yet had a chance to taint with apathy and laziness, and yet weighted by the fear of all the hard work and possible calamity it represents.
Going back to Leiths felt like a strange dream until I actually got there and remembered what my life at school is like. After that, it started to feel normal frighteningly fast. Sample six different wines at 10am on a Monday morning? Why not?
That was genuinely what we did on Monday, for our introductory wine lecture. Apparently all things wine-related are going to be getting a lot more serious this term. I did have a small wine breakthrough though: for the first time ever, I smelled wine and got something other than just ‘wine’ (apricots, in case you are wondering). Please may I have my diploma now?
In the afternoon we cooked the feast above as a gentle reintroduction to the kitchen (yes, really). From left to right, baba ghanoush with parsley and paprika, lamb meatballs in a cinnamon tomato sauce (technically kefta maticha), cous cous, roasted green peppers in harissa and preserved lemon dressing, and spiced chickpea flatbreads. We cooked as a table of four and it was all delicious.
On Tuesday our morning dem saw a truffle expert (fungus, not chocolate) come to speak to us and let us eat and handle some terrifyingly expensive specimens. We learnt, amongst other things, that there is no actual truffle in truffle oil and that dogs are preferable to pigs for truffle hunting because a pig will just eat all your truffles and get violent if you try to take them away from him. Later, we were back in the kitchens. I was told my portion of wild mushroom risotto and guinea fowl was on the large side for a main course. I promptly ate it all as an afternoon snack.
By mid-week, I think Leiths had decided that they’d eased us in gently enough and it was time to up the game a bit. The morning dem was on hollandaise with Ansobe. Hollandaise is another tricky technical skill for us to master, and I really was trying to focus on the technique, but I was minorly distracted by the absolutely delicious food we got to sample. Eggs Benedict, a fish tart with burnt hollandaise, steak with béarnaise sauce and triple-cooked chips… I ended the morning happy and full and sleepy, which was unfortunate because it was followed by a tricky afternoon for which I could have done with having my wits about me. Firstly we made artichoke soup for an assessment. This doesn’t sound so bad, but we were under strict time constraints, and I have never actually cooked with artichokes before. I have decided that they are divas in the vegetable kingdom. Once you peel them you immediately have to stick them in cold acidulated water so that they don’t oxidise and get ruined, you have to cut them into 2mm thick pieces to assure they cook through correctly, you must simmer (never boil) them in pre-scalded milk and… I won’t go on because it’s really dull, but suffice to say I was feeling a bit glum by the time I finally got my soup served. Luckily, and surprisingly, I actually got really good comments for a change. It’s not much to look at, but here’s a picture anyway to commemorate my triumph.
We followed up the artichoke soup with a pot roast chicken with a walnut and olive dressing which was slightly tricky, in part due to the fact that my cooking partner Sophie managed to properly slice through her finger while prepping the dressing. She was much more stoic about this than I would have been and soldiered on with a plaster and a blue glove for quite some time before I insisted that the blood filling the glove was problematic and she was whisked out of class to be tended to. Meanwhile, I haphazardly threw the rest of the chicken dish together and into the oven and ended up with the dish below an hour later – a very messy plate of over-cooked chicken. Sophie was fine in the end, for all those wondering.
On Thursday morning we had a lovely fish dem with Michael – I have been genetically blessed with the ability to eat fish at any time of day – followed by an oddly hectic session in which we made Eggs Benedict in order to test out our newly acquired hollandaise knowledge. It went well enough in the end, but Christ, was it ever a struggle getting there. Basically, the reason I only ever eat Eggs Benedict when I go out for brunch is that they are a bloody hassle to make and create a huge amount of washing up and scrubbing hollandaise off a gas hob is no fun.
I limped into the end of the week (literally, the cold and the cycling is making my knee play up), ready for another dem with Michael, this time on game. Now, I’ll eat anything and I’m not a squeamish person in the slightest, but even I struggled slightly as we watched a beautiful, sleek, fluffy rabbit get brutally beheaded by a cleaver and skinned. It was already dead, obviously. But still. The afternoon held more trauma in store. I’m pretty used to filleting flat fish by now, so when we were asked to fillet our first round fish – mackerel – I wasn’t too worried about it.
Ah, the blithe optimism of an ignorant idiot.
It was really, really hard. I mean, partly I was just rubbish at it, but it’s also pretty fiddly. Mackerel flesh is very delicate, and it’s easy for your fillets to start looking fairly brutally hacked as you attempt to prise them from the frame. The concentration in the kitchen was such that the room was almost completely silent, which is a rarity. We filleted two whole fish, and my end result was, frankly, awful, so I was left feeling pretty anxious about the whole thing.
Then we served our crème caramels, and mine was lovely, so that was nice.
In other news, either there is something wrong with my bike or I have lost literally all of my physical fitness over Christmas, because the five mile cycle ride from Paddington to Leiths which I was managing twice daily for months in 2015 has suddenly become a Herculean task to which I am not equal. This is not helped by the fact that it has been about zero degrees celsius while I have been cycling to school for much of this week, so I end the journey raw-faced and scarlet-fingered, the cold air having shredded my protesting lungs.
On the plus side, Great Western Rail have finally had the courtesy to bequeath my morning train to me. About time, really.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.