Becoming a chef - week 2...

Christmas break has finished, it's New Year and it was back to school for me. I felt like I'm a teenager again, going back to a class room, after that long Christmas break ;)
I might have felt like a teenager, but this time round I was really looking forward to going back to school and learning, learning how to become a chef! JustCooking here I come (and 5 other brave souls, who have a real passion for food).

Bruschetta of tomatoes, black olives, basil and rocket

Week 2 was all about Bistro & Gastro Pub food. Something not too complicated, definitely a comfort kind of food. Nice, big flavours - honest cooking - but still a lot to it!
If you think that your next door pub grub is plain and simple and everyone can get it right - think again. How many times did you have that "not so nice" lunch or dinner in a pub, or even in a small bistro cafe? I know it happened to me on too many occasions. Usually everything looks so good and delicious on the menu, unfortunately it's not always the case when you get that plate of food.

Gourmet beef burger with buttermilk onion rings, bacon, twice fried chips and salad

There was no bad food during second week though! We all did extremely well and we all still have 10 fingers each, all in perfect condition :) Chef Mark says it's just a matter of time before someone will cut themselves, as it comes with the territory, but I hope it won't be anytime soon (and hope it won't be me either - sorry my fellow students...).

Chicken Chasseur in the meaking

Back to food. I was really surprised how many different components and cooking methods can be, and is, involved into preparing some of those popular dishes on the pub's menu. But then again, Chef Mark doesn't do anything "half way", so in reality each of the dishes was really of a restaurant quality, a good restaurant :)

Chicken Chasseur and saute potatoes

We've learned how to make a proper bechamel sauce and it's derivatives (I'm used to making this when I cook my version of mac'n'cheese). We've also made 3 different (yes 3!) batters for fried fish, and it's really quite easy to get it right (without either burning the fish or having it raw in the middle). Twice baked chips, tartar sauce made from scratch were also on the menu :)

Getting the hang of deep frying

Talking about fish, it turned out that salmon can be really tasty and not too dry! Served with some stir fry vegetables (another thing which is usually done wrong by so many people...) and with sweet chilli dressing (something that is bought by bottle here in Ireland, and it turned out it's soooo easy to make from scratch yourself!). Also, I finally know how to steam cook fish, which I haven't attempted in the past, as it was always pan fried.

Battered fish and twice fried chips with tartar sauce

There were so many things covered during week 2. If I were to write you about them all, this little post will quickly turned into a small book, but you can see all the dishes that were created on the photos - we eat with our eyes anyway, so ;)

Steamed cod with parsley sauce, vegetable Jullienne and champ potato

My definite favourite of the week was Chicken & mushroom vol au vent! Chicken veloute made from scratch, grilled chicken, fried mushrooms, thick, velvety sauce and I'm particularly proud of my puff pastry "coffin" - what an awful name to use in the kitchen though, and in pastry! Coffin.... I would call it a "treasure box", as it hides something truly priceless - delicious food! - and it certainly looks like a little treasure box, with it's golden colour and that tiny, decorative lid :)

Chicken and mushroom vol au vent

I have some bad news for you though - perfect risotto IS all about that stirring and NOT leaving your pot unattended, even for few minutes. You don't need any cream/milk to make it nice, thick and velvety in texture, but you need to sweat a little bit over it, good 25-30 minutes. So, no shortcuts with this one, but it's so worth it! Trust me :)

Pan-fried salmon with vegetable stir fry and sweet chilli dressing

We've been told that next week is all about breakfasts (at least first two days of it). That means that we'll be eating breakfast all day long (there's no food waste at school, what gets cooked, gets eaten too!). Who doesn't want that?! Live on breakfast dishes alone for a full day, or two :)

Roasted mushroom risotto with parsley and lemon

     - still 10, still completely intact (that's what I call a result!)
Tips & Tricks learned:
     - once you buy a whole ginger root, clean it slightly and put in the freezer, no need to peel it. Whenever you need it just take it out and grate amount required (this was a real eye opener! how many times have you tried to grate fresh ginger and it went all "hairy"?! Or you tried to chop it really fine and it didn't work...)
     - if you want to thicken your sauce or soup you can use cornflour (which I always do), but it will make it "cloudy", for that clear look with a shiny appearance, use arrowroot to thicken your soups and sauces instead
     - when flavoring your risotto, add those cooked/prepared/ready to eat ingredients (like roasted mushrooms, grilled chicken pieces, sun dried tomatoes etc.) at the end of making the risotto, the taste will be more intense
     - it's so easy to make your own flavored/compound butter, I'll never buy it again! (I'll be showing you how and giving you some ideas what you can flavor your butter with, in a separate post soon!)

There were so many more little things that do make a difference when you're cooking/baking, but I think those above will be most useful for a "home cook", for your everyday cooking and baking.

Look for more Tips & Tricks from week 3 next Sunday! :)

Steak with potato rosti & potato galette, red onion marmalade, roasted mushroom & Bearnaise sauce

I won't be posting the recipes from the course, not all of them anyway, as there's simply too many. I will give you a recipe from the training now and again, especially if it's something that can be easily achieved at home, or if I come up with my own version of any particular dish/recipe.

Now, back to the kitchen - lunch won't cook by itself! ;)

Starter of roasted mushroom