Thursday, 26 June 2008

Flower Power

Ok, so I really should be revising. I should be memorising cuts of beef and imperial conversions and step by step methods for making genoise and puff pastry but my miniscule attention span is being affected by stuff happening in the garden. Mother Nature is putting on a show and that show needs to be eaten.

Last year, my vegetable patch was limited to three grow bags containing two varieties of tomatoes. This year, I added courgettes to my crop with the specific intention of stuffing the flowers. Courgette flowers are pretty hard to get hold of and they're bloody expensive too. You'd be looking at upwards of £1.50 per flower if you can find them. Given my current state of impoverishment, I should probably be flogging them at some farmer's market to eager cashed-up foodies but I can't bear to let them go. Their petals are just begging to be opened up, to have their stamens removed, and to be stuffed with a lovely soft goats cheese, fried in batter, and then drizzled with honey.

Fingers crossed, new buds will start appearing and we can indulge in another plate of ripeni ai fiori di zucca in a few weeks time.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The end is nigh

This is it. 6 months of a professional cooking diploma comes to an end in the next seven days. Work experience is completed and my portfolio, costing exercises and other coursework have been marked and returned. My hygiene certificate says I'm hygienic, and my health and safety certificate says I'm healthy and safe. At least I didn't fail on any of those.

On Friday I sit the theory exam and then on Monday, the dreaded six hour practical exam will put the past two terms of culinary education to the test. Tomorrow we find out what we will have to cook, but word has it that we'll be making puff pastry by hand, a task so gruesome that it sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it. Wish me luck. I'm going to need it...

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Hake with Parsley Risotto, Confit Chicken Wings and Chicken Jus

I'm not one to buy cookery books and then just leave them on a shelf to gather dust. There are so many dishes that I want to cook from Essence but many of the ingredients are hard to come by, not just things like ground elder and lovage, but also freshwater fish such as zander. The Champignon Sauvage dish of Zander with a Snail and Ground Elder Risotto, Confit Chicken Wings and Chicken Juices intrigued me so much that I just had to give it a go, albeit minus a few ingredients. I substituted hake for zander and parsley for ground elder and I made a lovely chicken jus which went surprisingly well with the fish. The snails would have been a wonderful addition, however despite having what seems like the entire world population of snails in my garden, I couldn't quite bring myself to prep and purge them for my dish.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Mind Control

Hey, I hate you! Stop getting inside my mind and suggesting things that you know I'll want to buy. Do you not realise I'm a non-earning student with zero disposable income? Who do you think you are, Derren Brown? All I wanted was Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page and there you go again, not-so-subliminally flashing your wares in front of my greedy eyes. "Recommended for you" you write above a nice picture of The French Laundry cookbook. Mmmm, yes I would quite like that actually. Next to The French Laundry there's Essence By David Everitt-Matthias of Le Champignon Sauvage and I want that too. Just stop it! Stop it right now! But you don't do you? You carry on with Molecular Gastronomy by Herve This and Pierre Gagnaire's Reinventing French Cuisine and before I know it I've racked up £55 in orders having used considerable mouse restraint to stop myself from purchasing the last two.

Hey, I don't hate you anymore. Let's kiss and make up. The books have arrived and I love them all. Culinary Artistry is a fantastically practical guide to pairing ingredients, both tried and tested combinations and some more unusual ones too. I have no doubt it will become an indispensable resource for sense-checking the dishes I put together. The French Laundry is a beautiful piece of publishing, more a coffee table enhancer that a practical book perhaps, given the heavy use of prime ingredients such as foie gras, Maine lobster, and truffles. That's not to say that the book doesn't contain some more realistic recipes to follow, in fact I tried the aubergine caviar method for a dish at school the other week and it worked a treat. Finally, there isn't a dish in Essence that I don't want to eat or try making myself. The plating of the dishes is everything I aspire to in terms of presentation and the use of foraged ingredients in the dishes is fascinating. It makes me wish I lived in the countryside rather than urban London where the only thing I have ever brought back from a foraging trip is dog poo on my shoes.

It's a wonderful feeling to open any cookery book, be it written by Ramsay or Keller, and not feel intimidated by any of the recipes in it. Compared to how I cooked a year ago, I can now understand all the techniques used, substitute the ingredients I don't have, and plate the dish how it is meant to be plated. The past 6 months of a professional cookery diploma have not just given me knowledge, they have given me confidence, and kitchen confidence is a truly liberating thing.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008


Cakes aside, I have never really thought of Vienna as a foodie destination. As a landlocked country Austria doesn’t have the best access to the freshest sea fish, and it isn’t really known for a particular breed of cattle or type of vegetable. Think Austria, think schnitzel, and to be honest most Wiener schnitzel is dry and very bland.

It was a really exciting surprise then to find the Naschmarkt in the heart of Vienna, a food market stretching over a kilometre in length. Now I’ve been to Borough, to the Boqueria in Barcelona and Paddy’s market in Sydney, but none of them got me as excited as the Naschmarkt. A walk down the narrow lane that runs between the stalls and you realise just how multi-cultural Vienna is. Its geographical position at the frontier of western and eastern Europe, and the influence of its muslim occupation during the years of the Ottoman empire are all still in evidence in the products on sale. Added to the Turkish and Slavic traders are stalls of Greek produce, oriental shops, Indian stalls – you really can buy anything here, from mangosteens to white asparagus, baklava, and pink salt.

Sweet things

Spicy things

Stuffed things

Asparagus things

Really weird things

The market is divided into two long lanes. Along the one side you have traders, along the other you have cafes and restaurants. Some are selling sushi, others bistro fare and everywhere in the Saturday sun people are sitting and chatting and soaking up the ambience. It’s buzzy but calm, the lanes are narrow but you don’t feel pulled along by a tide of people like you do at Borough. Traders call out to you to try a stuffed cherry tomato or a piece of pastry. I loved it and I wished it was on my doorstep. Ultravox clearly never visited the Naschmarkt. This means everything to me, oh Vienna!