With my evenings full of planning for ‘mystery box day’ and revising for the end of course exam (also why I failed to keep posting daily) this week absolutely flew by. On Tuesday we had a healthy eating expert come in to teach us about the health benefits of things like raw food and food combining and I was really surprised at how interesting I found it all and how inspired the day made me to experiment with health foods.
We started off making a green (or rather, verging on green) smoothie, more of a half-way house between your everyday fruit smoothie and your full blown green smoothie.The one we made was mostly fruit; apples, oranges and raspberries, with the green addition of chard (which should have been kale but there was none available). I almost want to say I preferred this over normal smoothies. It didn’t taste at all like cabbage, but the fruit was more mellow and less intensely sweet than in a pure fruit smoothie. I’m keen to try a ‘shrek smoothie’ now, a concoction of tropical fruits and spinach that supposedly comes out shrek green. (Looks like a decent blender may have made it on to my list of new equipment I want for the kitchen, alongside the knife set, ice cream maker, pasta machine, mini tart cases…) To go with our smoothie we made a raw porridge (oat groats – raw, unprocessed oats, that are still alive and full of active enzymes – soaked for about 24 hours in water, then mixed with apple juice, chopped apple and berries. I’m a bircher muesli fan, so this held instant appeal with me, only it had a fair amount more chew, providing us with an ideal opportunity to learn how to chew properly (at least thirty times!). This was something I prove not to be very good at.
Over the day we made a range of meals using healthy cooking methods including poached salmon with basil pesto and steamed chicken roulade stuffed with roasted pepper, olive and sun dried tomato, served with a red pepper and chickpea sauce and steamed vegetables. These were both lovely, fresh tasting dishes and very welcomed after three weeks of rich and creamy meals.
We also made gluten-free pasta, which we ate with some basil pesto and parmesan. I love the simplicity of this dish, and how, despite its simplicity, it still tastes amazing. It’s definitely the type of food I’m most into right now; a few really good ingredients turned into something that tastes beautiful.
We rounded off the day with a ‘healthy chocolate mousse’ made with a rather surprising mystery ingredient. Fortunately you couldn’t taste this ingredient at all (because I’m not sure it would have been particularly pleasant if you could) but it made the mousse wonderfully rich and creamy/moussey (without any need for cream or egg). For me, the flavour of the mousse was perfect, intensely chocolatey (from cocoa powder, not chocolate), not too sweet and with a hint of orange zest and pinch of chilli powder to lift things (it works).
Now, I could tell you what the mystery ingredient is, however, I’m tempted to hold this little detail back. I’m imagining it could be a fair bit of fun trying this mystery mousse out on people and playing a little ‘guess the mystery ingredient’ game. And also, if people did know what was in the mousse before I tried to get them to eat it, I’m not so sure they’d be all too keen to do so!
On Wednesday and Thursday our group was split in half for the mystery box days so as one half of the group could cook for the other, who spent the day, when they weren’t sampling food, wine tasting. I was in the first half of the group to cook, and on Tuesday night, we found out what would be in our mystery boxes. Our four courses would be centred around scallops, seabass, lamb loin and seasonal berries, and we were presented with a list of various vegetables, fruits and other odds and ends which we would have available to cook with.
So Tuesday night was spent scouring the internet and pouring over cookbooks for inspiration. I eventually settled on cooking scallops with diced chorizo and apple, something I had tried before and thought worked quite well.
For the seabass I took a bit of a risk and opted for ceviche, something I had neither prepared, nor even eaten before. I ‘cooked’ thin strips of the seabass in a mixture of orange and lemon juice for about 20 minutes, and then served the fish with a lemon and orange salad and lightly pickled fennel, providing a slightly crunchy texture to the dish and a gentle vinegaryness. If I can be so complimentary about my own cooking, I thought it was delicious! Not having cooked the fish with heat meant it remained fantastically moist and I enjoyed the citrus flavours with the fish and the refreshing coolness of the dish.The tasters (who provided written feedback) seemed fairly impressed with my choice to do ceviche, and the dish went down a little better than the scallops with them. Most comments reflected an uncertainty about the pairing of scallops with the apple and chorizo. Fortunately chef got the scallop/ chorizo/ apple thing, and with his opinion overriding the more negative ones, I could still feel fairly happy with the dish, not to mention the general consensus that mine were the best cooked scallops! 🙂 The seabass ceviche seemed to impress chef even more, so much so that he has decided to include a similar dish on the menu for his next pop-up restaurant…result! Unlike the others cooking with me, I slow-cooked my lamb after marinading it in a Moroccan spice mix. I then reduced the cooking liquor down and added some reduced red wine to make a rich, dark, slightly sticky, spicy jus. I served the lamb with slices of griddled sweet potato, dressed in a chilli, orange, honey and ginger dressing, and green beans tossed in garlic and chilli. I was pretty satisfied with the final result, particularly the colours of the dish, and the feedback I received was largely positive.
For pudding I made an exotic summer fruit clafoutis, infusing the milk with lemon zest (although ideally I’d have used lime if I could have got my hands on some), lemon-grass and ginger. I also replaced the cream with coconut milk. I was very pleased with the flavour of the dish, although the batter didn’t quite get enough of a rise on it and ended up a touch on the stodgy side….but clafoutis is always a little bit stodgy, right!?
I think I was so relieved to have finished my final dish that I forgot to take a photo! So imagine oozy summer berries in a lightly golden, aromatic batter…
I’d been anxious about mystery box day all month, worrying that my food would turn out a complete and highly embarrassing disaster. But the worry was pretty unnecessary and the day turned out to be a lot of fun and a great opportunity to devise a menu and experiment a little with ideas and techniques. I was also glad I got to go in the first group, as it meant I could sit back and relax the following day, taste lots of wine and sample 16 different dishes of food including a beautiful moule marinière, some delicious mullet in a crispy sage and garlic butter, some fantastically juicy sous-vide pork, and to finish, chocolate fondant, chocolate torte and some incredible chocolate sorbet, something I definitely want to have a go at myself.
By the time we’d sat the exam on Friday morning, spent a couple of hours making sushi and then sitting down to our last meal together at the school, the final day was already over and we were collecting our certificates and saying goodbye to each other, all somewhat astounded at how quickly our month together had flown by.
I have no idea where I’m headed next, but I’m fairly adamant I want it to be related to food in some way. Possibly not working in a big commercial kitchen, but last night I started day dreaming about opening my own deli/cafe, hosting supper clubs, and studying patisserie. I ended up so excited I struggled to sleep!
I’ve learnt a lot over the last month, but I know there’s masses out there still to learn…and I want to learn it!