10 February 2006

Conquering the February blahs

Mes chers amis. Apologies for lack of a post last week. This was partly due to an influx of chores after being in Paris the other weekend, and partly due to the usual wave of unenthusiasm that afflicts me pretty much every February, after enduring the many long weeks of darkness that constitute a London winter. (Londoners, you'll know what I'm talking about.)

On the school front, Chefette also hasn't been terribly enthusiastic about some of the recipes we've been doing lately, which are starting to feel a bit same-y in terms of ingredients. Lots of flour, eggs, cream, butter and cheese. Pretty much all the students in my class are agreed that it's hard to get excited about cheese souffle (which no more than a white sauce with cheese lightened by egg whites) when you've just been doing lots of white sauce with cheese. Although don't get me wrong, we are united in the knowledge that learning souffles is Good For Us. We know we need to know it.

The other class bugbear of the moment -- a skill we have to know for this term, which has the dual sins of being (a) hard to master and (b) completely out of culinary fashion -- is Turning Vegetables. To whit, cutting veg into even sized little barrel shapes with anywhere from 5 to 8 even facets, so that the veg will lie flat on a plate. Took me over half an hour (!) to do just a handful in class last Wednesday.

The Scotsman, bless his heart, sensed my frustration with the little beasties, and when I served he told me I "didn't do too badly with them". However, the ugly reality was that Wednesday simply wasn't my day in the kitchen. I didn't manage to get my Espagnole sauce consistency / flavour right-- having been in such a rush that I served it without having tasted it, a pretty silly and basic mistake for an Intermediate student! Then I proceeded to make the dough for my Chelsea buns without adding egg, and in frustration threw my dough into the rubbish bin. The Scotsman gave me a bit of a stern look when he found out, telling me that I could still have saved it, by incorporating the egg in the Magimix. As it was, I had to come in early the next day and remake my dough. Oh well, live and learn. Won't make that mistake again...

Anyway, the good thing to come out of all these little class frustrations, is an increased self-awareness. I have realised I'm just not the type of student who will always do brilliantly under the time pressure of class-- although I'll still have my good days, there will be a good few bad ones as well. So to compensate I have resolved to practice more at home. And good things are coming from it already. In the past 3 days I've made a 750g bread loaf at home, put together a roast aubergine dip, boned out chicken thighs and cooked them individually wrapped in Serrano ham with fresh sage, and cooked teppan-yaki style beef with shitake mushrooms and spring onions (on the cast iron griddle plate I got for 10 pounds in the sale at Selfridges!)

Best news of all, I've found a full-service catering butcher, Ashby, only two streets away from where I live, and who will do any any small orders I'd like for pick up between 5am and 3pm Monday-Friday. None of the retail butchers I tried before would do bones for stock, even as a special order. Today I rang Ashby asking for veal bones to roast off for stock, and a smoked ham hock. He told me on the phone they could do me a kilo of bones for around £1, but couldn't do a smoked ham hock. Yet when I went to pick up the order, about 2 hours later, the proprietorer said in fact they did have smoked gammons, and he so got one of the butchers to stop what he was doing and cut off a hock for me specially, exactly where I wanted on the joint. Now that's full service. Can't wait to try their best end neck of lamb next week, and get some practice with French trim before my dinner party on the 23rd.

Happy eating to all.

PS: My kitchen is full of the gorgeous smell of roasting veal bones. Wish they had a Smell Option on the Internet that I could waft over the airwaves.

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