Ashburton Cookery School Day 8

I was a little nervous about today as we had to prepare a lentil soup without a recipe and just a bunch of ingredients to work with as we wanted. I’ve not really made much lentil soup, so was a little unsure where to go with it. In the end I decided on a lentil, sweet potato and carrot soup flavoured with chilli, ginger, toasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds and a generous squeeze of lime juice. Possibly my biggest dilemma was whether or not to purée the soup. Most people decided to do so, yet I felt I’d rather have a soup with a bit of texture. I was pretty pleased with the end result and really liked the addition of lime juice, although I think I could have been a little more generous with my spices. While I do like the safety of recipes, stress levels aside, this was actually a really fun exercise to do, pushing us to be creative and encouraging us to allow our personalities to shape our food…I wonder what my soup says about me!

Over the course of the morning we also prepared our duck confit, removing yesterday’s marinade from the duck legs, completely submerging the legs in duck fat, and then cooking in a low oven for about 3 hours until the flesh was melting off the bones. We also marinated our venison loins in red wine, juniper berries, coriander seeds, bay leaves and thyme. Next it was butchering rabbits, which I didn’t feel all that squeamish over, although the smell was a little unpleasant, almost sweet and mustyish. I mostly struggled with the fiddlyness of it, managing to leave the top sections of the fillets stuck to the carcass and having a bit of a stress trying to remove the coating of sinew from the legs, by which point I was getting a bit huffy and frustrated with it all. The chocolate work we did was far more enjoyable, and produced a far tastier mess! We coated strips of acetate with melted chocolate and shaped them into teardrop shapes to form cases for a raspberry mousse which we made in the afternoon.

Dinner was venison loin wrapped in parma ham and served with a fig tart, dauphinoise potatoes, a cabbage parcel stuffed with shredded cabbage, smoked bacon, apricots and pine nuts and a chocolate jus made from veal stock and Madeira with a teeny smidgen of high quality, extra bitter chocolate melted in. Every element of this dish was amazing. I’ve never had venison before and found it to be similar in texture to fillet steak but with a more distinctive flavour. It was very beautiful to eat. The fig tart, drizzled with honey, made a lovely accompaniment, providing a nice sweetness that worked well with the rich venison. The cabbage parcels turned out to be another of those things that look dead impressive, but actually aren’t all that hard to make. The chocolate jus was fantastic – very intense – you didn’t need a lot, but it stood up well against the strong flavour of the venison.

For dessert we served our chocolate teardrop cases, filled with our light and creamy raspberry mousse, fresh raspberries and a raspberry coulis. I was very impressed with how the chocolate cases came out and the bitterness and crispness of the chocolate made a good contrast to the slightly sweet mousse while the tart raspberry coulis lifted the dish and added a nice refreshing element.

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