Becoming a chef - week 7...

The time flies when you're enjoying what you're doing, and I do enjoy chef's training program at the JustCooking, so much so that... I will actually miss it once it will finish in few weeks time. We really do get along well, all six students and our brilliant tutor/mentor chef Mark Doe. Besides cooking some stunning and delicious dishes, we also have a great time together. All different ages, all with different backgrounds, at different stages in our lives, but... all with one common passion - food!

Sea bass with barley risotto, beetroot dressing and crispy cauliflower

Week 7 was mainly concentrated on vegetarian cooking, and proving that there's more to vegetarian dishes than mushrooms ;) I do like meat free meals and more often than not - I enjoy making and eating them. But, saying all that, I could never be a vegetarian. Don't understand me wrong now, I'm all for proper treating of all animals - big and small - I'm strongly against mass produced meat, farms where animals are stuck in cages and can't even turn around. I'm also against over fishing our seas and rivers, and many other issues that are really wrong in our times, when it comes to food and its production. But, I do think that if we keep everything in balance (farming, keeping animals, fishing - food production in general), we still can enjoy eating meat and fish, but I don't believe it should be on a daily basis, for our own health if nothing else!

Sweet potato and brie strudel.

Between sweet potato and brie strudel - soft and slightly sweet on the inside and crispy on the outside (also, no soggy bottom!) - to amouse buche of sweet potato tortellini (and I did enjoy making those pretty little dumplings!), there's no shortage of ideas for vegetarian starters. Mains are usually when chefs, and people in general struggle in the kitchen. Mushroom risottos are way too often present on restaurant menus, so making both main vegetarian dishes (and both originating in Asia) was really good experience. So full of flavour, sweet and sour, such an array of vegetables and no meat, nor fish in sight!

Vegetable curry

Amouse bouche of sweet potato, blue cheese and sage tortellini served on a bed of braised red cabbage

My definite favourite dish of the week was sea bass on barley risotto with sweet and sour beetroot dressing. I have to admit that it was my very first time making (and eating) barley risotto. It's much more earthy and I would even say flavorsome than traditional rice risotto. Unlike the traditional one, this won't work with sweet dishes, but it's perfect as an accompaniment or a main star on the plate in a vegetarian dish. I'm now hugely encouraged to try and cook more with barley in general. Already thinking of some soups and a salad - with some roasted, winter root vegetables!

Vegetable Pad Thai

Coq au vin

The week saw us making some real classics, from both - continent and the British Isles. Coq au vin is a dish I've made good few times before and one that I truly enjoy. Not a lot of work in it, but some preparation, once you've done all that, the rest is taking care by itself ;) you just have to wait and eat.

With the second very well known dish I've raised few voices in the kitchen. So, basically I always, but always make my fish pie with sliced, boiled eggs. You put them on the layer of your fish and sauce, just before you pipe your potatoes. Apparently, as I was very urgently and quite loudly informed ;) in Ireland it's something unheard of! Luckily for me, chef Mark is an Englishman, so I got to boil my egg and put it in my own little fish pie. Happy days! Who knew, that such a small, straight forward thing like a fish pie can be such an "international issue" ;)

Fish pie

Our week of training wouldn't be complete if we didn't make some baking or a dessert - all that to my utter delight! I do love cooking, but it's pastry where my heart jumps that bit higher ;) During week 7 it was a brioche. The version we've baked, based on Gordon Ramsay recipe, wasn't too sweet and could be a perfect accompaniment to for ex. various meat terrines. But I wouldn't be me ;) if I haven't get a thick slice of it and smeared it generously with butter and strawberry jam! Also delicious!


     - mine: still 10, still intact, woo hoo!
     - other's: all OK as well :) 

Tips & Tricks learned:
     - no need to make real strudel pastry, use shop bought filo pastry to enjoy savory or sweet strudels, you can make one large strudel, or cut filo pastry sheets in half to make small, individual strudels
     - making barley risotto is exactly the same way as making traditional one, just soak up the barley for few hours in cold water before using, it's perfect accompaniment to fish and meat dishes
     - when cooking with wine (like coq au vin) do use a nice wine, being it red or white. My general rule is that I don't cook with wine that I wouldn't drink (and I'm not talking about a taste/preferences here), if the wine went bad, and you wouldn't drink it anymore - why would you pour it into your stew or a sauce?! If you have any wine left over (particularly red one) freeze it in ice cube trays, which you can then easily add to your cooking, learn how to make wine vinegar, or simply - just throw it away

You can catch up with my whole journey of becoming a professional chef HERE.