So here we are again, week 8 has been and gone and I feel like my transformation to becoming mostly butter, cream, and salt is almost complete. To top it off the heat and diet are less than ideal for my skin, but you’ll be happy to hear that there are no photos of my face in this post. I say my face as there is a photo of me, but not of my face… all will become clear soon!
The theme of week 8 has been seafood with a few too many puddings thrown in to keep us on our toes! We were led by Chef Alan again this week, and he’s focused on pushing us to multitask and work at speed – slightly in comparison our relaxed pace with Darrin last week! We were working with such wonderful ingredients that I shall do my best to include more photos and less text (‘Thank godness for that’ I hear you cry!).
Our week started out with our skills session on pasta. We made three different pasta doughs; a standard plain dough, a saffron dough and a squid ink dough, which was fantastic practice. Two of the doughs were then stuffed, one made into tortellini and another ravioli and the squid ink pasta was then made into linguine and tagliatelle. The morning was really enjoyable and I was amazed how tasty the pasta was on its own – it turns out salt and oil are moreish, which probably explains my skin!
The afternoon was a little less energetic and started with us in groups giving informative and interesting presentations (that was the brief, not an observation unfortunately!) on the different types of seafood. We all did our best to liven it up, one of my classmates was particularly successful as he delivered his entire presentation from his ‘costume’ as shown below! Next we moved onto a debate on fish farming, with half of the group having researched the positive aspects, the other half the negative. I found it interesting to learn about the topic but it wasn’t quite the same as an afternoon in the kitchen.
Tuesday was our first chance to get our hands on real (live) seafood, starting with lobster. I’m very happy to say that the school has a Crustastun machine – a humane way to stun the lobsters, meaning that they do not feel pain when they are then killed in boiling water. The lobsters were beautiful and we were very lucky to have made ourselves half a Lobster Thermidor each for lunch. The lobster meat was tender and succulent, but I think my preference would always be to have it more simply dressed than in a rich cheese sauce. After lobster it was the crabs turn, again these were stunned first and boiled. We removed the crab meat from the shell to pick through it the following day.
As we’re never happy unless we’re multitasking we also prepped squid, prawns, a chocolate sponge and carrot cake – all in a normal day’s work! I probably don’t need to stress that a day at Ashburton is never normal! That evening I found a way to entertain myself during cleanup as it was my turn to create the tub tower! We use a lot of take away tubs in the kitchen; for food waste, mise en place and importantly taking our spoils home! So there are a lot to wash and plastic doesn’t dry very efficiently. This means someone has to create a big tower of tubs to leave them to dry overnight. I was maybe thinking a tad too much of a tower of cards and had great fun creating this masterpiece! Unfortunately the Chefs were less impressed than I was, but look at how pretty it is!
Wednesday was when I found out that picking crab meat is a lot more work than picking lobsters! We were told to pick through the meat three times and it took me so long to pick through my crab that peering over it started to hurt my back. I therefore adopted a rather attractive ‘crab picking stance’ – photo attached for your amusement as always!
As it had taken me so long to pick my crab I was running a little behind and foolishly disregarded the following advice – pick a fourth time if you find something on your third pick! Unfortunately that came back to bite me as I found several pieces of shell and cartilage in my lunch – doh! Luckily the lunch was really beautiful so absolutely worth persevering with! Chef Alan encouraged us to really think about how we wanted to plate the dish as there were lots of elegant elements. That meant one thing to me – a chance to attempt my crescent shaped negative space plating! I was really happy with it and hopefully you can see what I was trying to achieve in the picture at the top of this post. That afternoon we worked towards our second crab dish of the day; a crab risotto, followed by a rich chocolate tart.
Thursday started with making sourdough from a starter that we’ve been feeding since week 2. This wasn’t a true sourdough as there was yeast in the starter and yeast in the bread (shock horror to any sourdough purists!) but the starter gave the bread a slightly sour flavour and a nice crust. I was pleased with the shape of mine once it was baked, however I found out it was a tad under proved as it slightly tore at the base and had a close texture. This has become a bit of a theme for me, so it’s something I shall work on.
Luckily for those of us who hadn’t eaten enough crab this week we did crab cakes with a chilli mango salsa for lunch. This was another beautiful lunch dish – how spoilt we’ve been for lunches all week! Once again I went for the crescent plating, I know… I just can’t help myself! Lunch pudding (love a lunch pudding) was an airy mousse and chocolate sponge which we’d put together the day before.
Just to top off the Ashburton busy day theme, we also made a bisque from the lobster and crab shells, followed by a tuna niçoise. Amazingly we finished earlier that day than we have done in weeks and were all cleared down by half 4 – a bit of an achievement!
Friday’s focus switched off of seafood and onto fish – bream and ling. The bream was baked in a flavoured salt dough (and was a lot more appetising on the plate than it looks in the photo!) while the ling was being marinaded in a quick acidic marinade, followed by a slower more spiced marinade. Our first task of the day however was to start on a genoise sponge. Surprisingly, given the amount of cake I do make, I have never made a genoise. It is a sponge cake made with whisked eggs and sugar, where the eggs are the only raising agent. The result is that the sponge has a lovely light crumb and is also easy to slice really thin and therefore layer with a filling, as we did later.
On eating our second lunch I found out that the last marinade for the ling was surprisingly spicy, so I was glad for the accompaniments – a sweet mango chaat and a cooling mint chutney. Saying that, I totally only ate one piece as I’d demolished my whole bream during my first lunch (yes we do eat like Hobbits). The bream was wonderfully moist and despite being quite an old fashioned technique (it’s traditionally cracked open and filleted at the table for some drama) it made the fish really succulent. One of my classmates was telling me how they have done something similar using egg whites to effectively make a savoury meringue to bake bream in – now that I would like to try!
To finish off the week we made an Italian meringue which would become the base of a rather extravagant Grand Marnier buttercream icing. Surprisingly we were given electric whisks for the task (it was about 15 minutes of non-stop whisking even with an electric hand whisk – imagine our poor arms if not!) but there was a still a high risk of splitting it when adding the butter, zest or Grand Marnier. My partner and I increased this risk massively by leaving our tub of butter on a warm induction hob and letting it melt a bit – whoops! Luckily Chef rescued us with some fresh butter and we somehow managed to not split it at all. Our genoise sponge was coated with some Grand Marnier syrup before it was time to construct our layered cake. I was happy enough with my simple design, even if Chef was a little surprised by how quickly I finished. Having made a semi-naked (that’s a technical term) cake before, my attitude was – the more you mess with it the messier it gets!
Another wonderful week over and another blog post almost done. I’ve struggled a bit with balancing relaxation and work this week (perhaps not helped by my tendency to spend two evenings a week talking to two of my classmates for several hours!). I suspect I will have to start being slightly more strict with myself in the evenings and do more work. As a friend of mine reminded me today, before the course I was worrying I’d spend the evenings lonely and bored all on my own in Devon! I’m obviously extremely grateful for the dilemma of having to choose between working on menu planning, writing my blog, or go out playing with my new friends. Thank goodness there is no need to try to fit in exercise as well thanks to my new low fat diet of Lobster Thermidor and chocolate puddings!