Blood, Sweat and Tears

It was my day off today, and guess what treat I had lined up for me? Two fillings at the dentist. Lucky me! Thankfully they took minutes and the clean was more uncomfortable than the actual fillings.

Today is my first day off when I’ve not gone back to bed in the day, which is an achievement for me. I’ve kept busy, making apple crumble with port soaked sultanas (not sure how that will turn out) plus a couple of mini crumbles for my friend and her 3 boys.

I’ve also replenished the home-made granola we’ve been eating. It’s so much cheaper than the shop bought stuff – a Kelloggs chocolate granola was on special offer at £2 and we got about 6 portions out of it. Adding a little bit of chopped dark chocolate to the home-made stuff makes it feel a bit more luxurious. This is the recipe I’ve been using. So, still in the kitchen on my days off. A good sign, I believe.

I got my first proper cut in the kitchen last week. Bread knife to the top of my first finger. Flapping flesh and lots of blood. Head chef’s solution was a hot knife to cauterise it. Although I felt a bit of a wimp for not accepting this treatment, a quick trip to A&E in my split (yes, I injured myself on my own time) and I was back to work. I was seen pretty quickly considering how minor my injury was. I reckon it was a quiet day!

Tears, there have been a few, mostly caused by frustration. Talk about males not knowing what to do when someone is upset! The bright side of my blubbing is that I feel even more like getting back to it the next day. I’m learning from my mistakes, which makes me feel more confident. It’s tough at times but I’m game!

I’m having some influence in ordering the kitchen which at times is like working in a cupboard with no light on, in terms of space and locating things. Organising ‘my’ fridge is the latest thing and I need to draw up a fridge plan for the wall. Basically I want everyone to be able to work efficiently and have what they need to hand, and have as much space a possible to do it. Down with clutter!

Laters x

An Update On Chef Life

Hi.

Hello.

An update. I did 55.5 hours of work last week. That is nearly double what I used to do in a week. To be honest, I didn’t feel it too much whilst I was doing it, because when I’m busy I don’t feel tired, and when I get home I go to bed. It was when I got my 2 days off that it hit me! A tired feeling that I’ve had before, but a most unpleasant feeling. Plus it’s my time off so I don’t want to feel tired on my days off! However a lot of the two days were spent in varying levels of slumber.

I also experienced feeling cross with myself for being tired. How dare I try and recharge my batteries! (I’m currently running on AAA size but soon I’ll be one of those big rectangle ones you put in your smoke alarm). I have to learn to just go with it. I have a good book, what’s wrong with reading a bit of that and then having a snooze?

I am eating less. Bet you’re surprised at that one, eh, what with me working in a kitchen? I have breakfast, and I have some lunch after 3.30. By the time I’m home, which is usually 10.30pm or later, it’s too late for dinner so I have a bath (I stink of kitchen smells) and go to bed. I’m a whole meal down each day. I miss cooking in my kitchen and when I get a proper dinner, it’s a novelty.

There was an experience last week that nearly saw me changing my mind, but thankfully I rationalised it ( thanks to the CBT I had) and saw it for what it was. And I’m still there/here!

I’m learning more about the background stuff, like the prep and how to do it and how to manage the fridges. Apparently my salads look good (not a fan of salad, maybe I would be if I had one of my own) and desserts (naturally ;)) and I’m getting quicker at doing several starters at once.

I’ve been cleaning and organising lots, which I like to do because when you are in a hurry you don’t want to be scrabbling through the unopened bottles of stuff to find the one opened bottle you need to use. My patisserie section looks good 🙂 and obviously, cleaning is a daily job in a kitchen.

I’m getting on well with the other staff, especially the chef I’ve spent most of my time with. They are a good bunch.

I’m hoping to come in to my new uniforms today when I arrive at work 🙂 fingers crossed.

Adios 🙂

Soup, Cinnamon, Spuds and Summer Rolls

It’s been a week since I left my last job, yet it feels like longer. I’ve done 3 shifts since starting at the new place, and am now on the first of two days off. Boy is it hard work! I was prepared for that but the physical aspect and how much I’ve felt that in my body was a bit of a surprise. Shoulders, legs, neck, back and even hands have all been achy the next day. Cuts and grazes, blisters and burns adorn my hands. I’ve washed up more dishes and pots than I care to mention. I’ve peeled about 12kg of potatoes. These aren’t negatives at all, as I am grateful for the fact that I am spending time in that kitchen. When 10pm comes around and I’m on my way home, yes I feel like flopping but I’m looking forward to the next shift.

I’ve made a few new things at since my last blog post. The first thing was a butternut squash soup with chorizo and a poached egg. The recipe came from a supplement with one of the Saturday papers. It was quite basic: roast a butternut squash, skin and all in the oven, then add stock and liquidise. The chorizo was sliced and then fried until crispy and the egg poached and both placed on top of the soup. I felt I seasoned the soup well but still it was a little bland. Next time I’d add some cayenne pepper or thyme.

soup

Next was the massive chocolate brownie I made at work, I need to find out if the recipe is ‘secret’ or not before I can share it. To give you an idea of how big it was, it used 3 packs of butter and 12 eggs. I felt comfortable making that, it was in my comfort zone. The next day I made beans on toast for the two owners of the place. Beans on toast has never been so terrifying!

brownie

Next was the arrival of a new book, Nigel Slater’s Eat. I’d only looked through a few pages and I was already cooking meat and cheese in a pan and putting it in a ciabatta roll. Because I’d only ever eaten ciabatta when it’s been toasted as a panini, I didn’t realise how soft and delicious it was untoasted. Yum. It looks like a good simple book for when you don’t want to spend hours cooking. I made chorizo and mozzarella ciabatta with rocket.

photo 2i

Then, with the rice paper wrappers I’d bought a while ago, mentioned in this post I made summer rolls, which I also spied in my new book. This reminded me I had to use up the wrappers. I prepared some cucumber, carrot, spring onion, rice noodles, chilli, coriander, mint and thai basil. I’d also bought some prawns to add. These didn’t add much flavour. I put together a sauce of soy sauce, lime juice and sugar. Wrappers stuffed and rolled, they tasted fresh and similar to the ones I enjoyed in Berlin, but they were missing something. They’d be good for lunchboxes, but as I don’t need a lunchbox any more…

photo 3

Finally, today I was catching up on bloglovin and came across a post that mentioned National Cinnamon Roll Day in Sweden. I love cinnamon swirls/rolls when I have pastries, so I thought I’d give these a try. They use yeast and butter, so I suppose it’s an enriched dough? This has been the first dough I’ve made that I’ve felt confident with – it kneaded well and went elastic and glossy like it is meant to. The kitchen filled with the smell of cinnamon as these baked for 10 minutes. Already sampled, I can confirm they are a success. Thanks to supergoldenbakes and the post about these cinnamonny delights, they don’t look the same but the y taste so good!

photo 5

After all that, I’m feeling quite exhausted! I’m on patisserie on Sunday, which I’m looking forward to. The chef said I can do what I like with the plates, woo hoo!

PS here’s the spuds that gave me blisters:

photo 1

Adios x

New Job!

I sit here at 9.04 on Monday morning, leisurely sipping on my daily coffee, contemplating the week ahead. I’m not at work. I’m not going back to that work anymore, because I have a new job. A Brand New Job! That I start tomorrow. I am very excited about it. I dreamt of it last night, although I’m sure my dream is not an accurate representation of what the job will be like. I am going to be a trainee chef, and in my dream I was on my own on my first day, having to make okra stew. Yuck.

It’s a bit funny, the way it came about. I saw a few adverts for kitchen porters/trainee chefs and looked up the establishments. I applied to one or two, but didn’t expect to hear back, not really. As it happened, after a couple of emails to one of the jobs, and a wrong email address to send my CV to, requiring me to ring up, I started talking to the boss, he asked some questions about me (kind of like a mini interview) and at the end of the conversation, it transpired that he already had my CV on his desk and it was arranged for me to come in for an interview the next day.

I didn’t feel particularly nervous about this, mostly excited and curious to see the venue and the people that work in it. My interview was very informal and consisted mostly of the owner informing me how tough it can be in a commercial kitchen, which was a good thing because at least he was being honest with me and preparing me! I was asked to come in at the weekend to work, for me to find out if it really was for me, and I guess for them to see if I was suited to the job too. I drove home from the interview with a massive smile on my face, hardly believing this was happening to me.

I spent the weekend there, and I got stuck in, plating up stuff and cooking a couple of bits. I didn’t do any washing up which I was expecting to have to do. The team were amazing, the head chef was down to earth and told me at the end of my shift that if I wanted the job, it was mine, which was great to hear. I was working mostly with a young lad who was at catering college but also did some shifts in the kitchen. He was amazing, never forgetting I was there, explaining everything to me,  letting me have a go and encouraging me to have a go, too.

During the times when he was busy, I had learnt enough to go ahead and plate up the desserts without him, trying to remember each element that was meant to go on the plate! I didn’t always get it right but someone always noticed if there was something missing. It was at times pressured, but I liked that feeling! I even shouted out when my plates were ready for service.

I was so excited and inspired I was up at 7am the next morning making plum curd to bring in. I knew it was something I wanted to do, and being given the chance, I had to take it! As soon as I got my job offer I let my boss at work know. To cut a long story short, a 4 week notice period ended up being one and a half weeks for a couple of reasons. I left in a bit of a hurry, and I will miss everyone that I worked with, but I know I am going on to something I really want to do.

The name of the place I will be working is The Crown in Aston End, Stevenage. Tomorrow is my first day. Wish me luck!

Recipe: Crumbly Lemon Cake

I visited my local library in the week, having to return a book is finished reading. The book, if you are interested, was called Kimberly’s Capital Punishment by Richard Milward. I have never read a book like it in my life. Aside from it’s interesting twist, this story is not for the faint-hearted, or anyone easily offended. The graphic description of all sorts of things had me laughing one minute, then having to put the book down and take a break. Read it, but you have been warned…

Anyway, this trip to the library took me to the cookery section, as it always does. In my library, this section is situated right by the ‘made to seem like a living room showing constant daytime tv’ section. On this occasion, the airing show was Cash in The Attic, or Bargain Hunt, or Dickinson’s Real Deal, or Car Booty… you get the picture. There were at least 5 audience members. Sadly, I don’t think many of them owned an attic, but for a sheltered warm place to spend the day, the library living room is a good choice.

One of the audience had pushed his chair back so far he was only about 5 foot from the bookshelves. That was enough space for me, but I got the feeling I was disturbing his viewing pleasure as he kept looking over his shoulder to see what I was doing. I wasn’t sitting on his shoulder or anything. Just looking at books. In a library. Quite, quite normal. He was probably glad to see me go.

Before I went, I found a lovely little (and light) book called caffè italia. I love my morning coffee, it’s something I can be happy about when waking up. My limit is two, though, or the caffeine takes over. The book is about the coffee culture in Italy, and the things – mostly sweet – that are eaten with a cup of the hot stuff. Looking through it at home, one recipe caught my eye, 1. Because it had lemon in it, and 2. Because I had most of the ingredients already. Making this cake, I was convinced it wouldn’t cook into the crumbly biscuit-like texture I was expecting, but miraculously it did. It’s unusual and tasty and very easy. Here’s the recipe.

Crumbly Lemon Cake – sbrisolona

120g butter, cubed
170g plain flour
120g caster sugar
120g ground almonds
100g fine polenta or semolina
Grated zest of two lemons
2 egg yolks, beaten

a 23cm loose-bottomed tin, lightly greased. I also base-lined with baking paper.

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C, 350 degrees F, GM 4.
2. Rub the butter, flour and sugar together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the almonds and polenta. Add the lemon zest and mix well.
3. Work in the egg yolks; at this point the the mixture will become a little lumpy. Scatter the mixture evenly into the prepared tin, but do not press down. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden and firm. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, breaking into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight tin to keep crunchy.
Enjoy with a cup of coffee and your favourite trash-to-treasure programme.

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A Strop-Preventing Emergency Pudding

Food (or the lack of it) can affect one’s mood in a way we may not wish others to experience. Hunger can induce a Jekyll and Hyde-style personality transplant so severe you have no recollection of the event, although you might be wondering why everyone is avoiding eye-contact and looking slightly traumatised as your hunger shakes cause you to get at least 70% of your food in your mouth. It’s known as being hangry. (Hungry and angry, yeah?)

I’ll admit, it’s happened to me.

Thankfully, I did not have company when I decided to have my strop. I’m not sure the people I told really understood the deep emotions I was feeling at the time. Here’s what happened: I’d bought some tortilla chips and dip. I may have started eating them, but I certainly didn’t finish them. I went on a night shift in a job that I really didn’t want to go to. The thought of going to sleep when I got home in the morning, then waking up and getting those precious chips and dip out whilst I sat in my pyjamas, waiting for my next bedtime, got me through the night. I was so looking forward to those snacks.

I got home, I went to sleep, and then I woke up naturally as I didn’t have to work again that night. The wonderful thought of those crisps was making my mouth water. I was feeling hungry, too, as I hadn’t eaten since the night before. You might have already guessed what happened next. The chips weren’t there. No chips. Chips all gone. (The other half had eaten them whilst I was at work.) That was it. Overtired, with a wonky body clock, grumpy, HUNGRY me broke down and had a hangry episode. Oh, I cried. And made some funny noises that expressed my immense disappointment. There was nothing else in the house that was quick to eat! Plus I looked like shit, having been up all night and slept during the day, without a bath or a hair wash, I wasn’t going anywhere.

I can’t remember what I did. I don’t think I went to get more crisps. I probably stropped for a good while longer and then decided to pull myself together. Now you see what strong emotions food can induce? I can hear you saying, bloody hell, it was only a packet of Doritos! Get a grip woman. Yes. Well, if it was Only A Packet Of Doritos, I’d understand your viewpoint. But, it was A Packet Of Doritos + A Job I Didn’t Want To Go To + Tiredness + Grumpiness + 12 Hours Of Looking Forward To This Packet Of Doritos = Having A Tantrum Over The Absent Doritos. Ok?

This evening, I craved something sweet, and a pudding. I had nothing! I had to think fast and call upon what I’d learnt to try to fend off the inevitable impending behaviour issues. Quick think – what did I have? I had pastry, plums, fruit curd. Ta-da – a plum tart was made and happily devoured. One stable mood. The peace has been maintained in my house this evening. I just hope that sharing my hangry experience will educate you so that you can recognise the signs in order to prevent you and those around you from having to deal with the volatile mood that hunger can bring.

Here’s how to make the plum tart.

You need approx 125g shortcrust pastry (ready made) 2 – 3 plums, some fruit curd, and some brown sugar and cinnamon.
Roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick. Place a saucer on top and cut around to make a circle of pastry.
Cut the plums in half and remove the stones.
Spread some fruit curd on the circle of pastry.
Lay the plums skin-side down on the curd.
Gather the edges of the pastry loosely and gently fold up to the plums to create a crust.
Sprinkle with brown sugar mixed with cinnamon.
Bake on a baking tray at GM6 for around 20 minutes until the pastry turns golden. Eat warm with creme fraiche.

Together, we can raise awareness of the mood disorder known as being hangry. Thank you.

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Note: feeling hangry is a real thing. It is not a recognised psychological disorder. As far as I know.

Urban Blackberries and Five Ways to Use them

Keep an eye out for blackberries, coming to a hedgerow near you. Or an abandoned car park, in my case, avoiding the broken glass and looking out for unpleasant objects as I picked in my besandled (it’s a word…) feet.

blackberries 3

blackberries

What to do with blackberries?

1. Make a pie with apples

2. Make jam (never made jam myself)

3. Make a sauce for duck, or venison, or ice-cream

4. Make blackberry curd

5. Make blackberry wine or whisky 

Recipe: Pork with Vietnamese Herbs (bun cha)

Here’s what happens: I go away to Berlin and discover a desire for Vietnamese food. Thanks to a recommendation from someone we were staying with, I ate at a little restaurant called Waterlily where I had summer rolls and a delicious crispy (proper crispy) duck with a curry sauce. My previous experience of Vietnamese food had not been good – the words unidentifiable and gelatinous were fitting adjectives. It was grim. This though, was fresh and fragrant.

Luckily for me there is an oriental supermarket a few minutes from home. I got myself some rice paper wrappers, which I discovered expire in October which is a good reason to not let them sit in the kitchen gathering dust.

rice paper

Why can I never put apple stickers in the bin?

Pork mince out of the freezer after holiday, I searched online for a recipe with a Vietnamese flavour, and found a recipe for bun cha. Apparantly, bun cha is Hanoi’s second most famous dish after pho. Another reason I may have steered clear of this sort of cuisine is that I can’t guarantee I’ll find the ingredients I need, even in the oriental supermarket. The frustration of having everything you need for dinner except one thing you can’t find is, well, very frustrating. If it’s Tesco Metro we’re talking about, I don’t tend get past ingredient number one which is usually something as simple as a red pepper. AVOID.

This time, I was shocked to find the two most unlikely ingredients in that well-known bottom-slapping supermarket. Thai basil and garlic chives, both in the reduced section as well? Made my day. The other ingredients are easy to find in larger supermarkets. I have no photos of this dish. It was too tasty to stop eating and pick up a camera (and I’m a bit lazy) but I do have a little picture of the garlic chives.

garlic chives

I got my proper camera out for the first time in over a year.

So here is the recipe for this wonderful fresh herby Vietnamese dish. I have made a few adaptations, based on how likely I was to find some of the more unusual items and how much I already had of the ingredients. The original recipe is here

500g 
pork mince

1
 egg, lightly beaten

500g
 rice vermicelli noodles, cooked

200g bean sprouts

1 bunch
 Asian (Thai) basil, leaves plucked

1 bunch 
mint, leaves plucked

coriander if you wish

Marinade

40ml 
fish sauce

10 
spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced

handful of 
garlic chives, roughly chopped

1/2  tbsp 
dark soy sauce

½ cup
 minced red Asian shallots

⅓ cup 
minced garlic (I wimped out at this much garlic and put in less!)

1 tsp 
freshly ground black pepper

Dipping sauce

2 tbsp
 fish sauce

2 tbsp
 vinegar

2 tbsp
 sugar

½ cup 
water

1
 fresh red chilli, finely choppped

2
 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 
tbsp lime juice

In a mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, egg and half of the marinade ingredients and mix well. . Cover and marinate meat in the fridge for 2 hours, or overnight for a better result.

Form the pork mixture into small balls with oiled hands, then slightly press down on each ball to form patties, about 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter and 1 cm (½ inch) thick.

Heat a charcoal grill or barbecue (I used a frying pan)  to medium-high and grill the patties for 4 minutes on each side.

For the dipping sauce, add fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water to a saucepan. Mix, then bring to the boil. Transfer to a dipping bowl and add chilli, garlic and lime juice.

Place the noodles, herbs and patties on three separate platters.

Transfer to 4-6 dipping bowls. Each guest should have their own dipping bowl, with all the ingredients in the middle of the table. Take a mixture of noodles, herbs and meat, and dip into the warm fish sauce with each mouthful.

Enjoy!

                                                                                                

Recipe: Bread and Butter Pudding with Berries and Lemon Curd

Bread and butter pudding is a bit of a classic, isn’t it? What better way to fancy up some bread but to pour cream and custard over it, sprinkle with sugar and sultanas then bake in the oven until crispy and golden? I was in the running to make a dessert for a family meal, feeding 9 people. It was actually a 50:50 split between making or buying a dessert. Making some effort, I picked up my latest issue of delicious, which I now subscribe to, and turned to the recipe index at the back. It’s a really useful feature when you want to scan for some inspiration.

My eyes hovered over the above recipe, I turned to the page and it was decided, I would be making this! The fact that the bread in question was brioche was a bonus. Lemon curd, too, as I love lemon in food, especially desserts.

brioche slices

bread butter pudding

cooked bb pudding

How to make:

400g brioche loaf (around 9 – 10 slices)

butter for spreading

500g fresh custard (I used the long-life carton type)

200ml double cream

100g raspberries

100g blueberries

50g dark chocolate, optional (I used Asda smartprice)

6 tbsp lemon curd

1. Thickly slice the brioche into around 9 – 10 slices and butter one side of each slice. Cut each slice into triangles, spread one side with butter  and layer in an ovenproof dish.

2. Mix the cream and custard together then pour in on and around the bread. Press the bread down slightly. Leave to stand and absorb for 20 minutes. In the meantime preheat oven to gas mark 3/160 degrees C.

3. Scatter the pudding with the berries and tuck them under the slices. Break the chocolate into small pieces if using, scatter it over the pudding. Place dollops of the lemon curd over the pudding.

4. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving with your favourite accompaniment – cream, custard or ice-cream.

Food and Art

As a one-time photography student, we needed to do one essay per year of the course. Whilst the hard work of essay-writing is not something that brought me joy, the opportunity to delve into a particular subject and create your own argument whilst justifying your opinion with evidence was enjoyable. At the end of my second year, my work for the show consisted of a large print (around 50 inches square, I think) of people in the process of eating. You can see the image here.

I’d thought about the link between food and photography, and aside from actual food photography, there wasn’t a great deal out there. The focus was on making the experience or the product look tasteful, attractive and enticing. Regardless of the type of food pictured, whether it was chicken and chips or fine dining, the process which happened next – eating – was much the same. Cutlery or fingers, it involves putting food into the mouth, chewing and swallowing.

Who wants to be photographed whilst eating? There are numerous celebrities papped whilst eating in a variety of embarrassing poses. Is it the faces we inadvertently make whilst eating that are unattractive? With food accessible in all sorts of public places, do we really think that the act of eating is something personal and private? Maybe we don’t want to be judged on our eating habits or food choices.

I came across a video discussion on the Tate Britain website, on the subject of art and food. Food started being depicted in art many years ago – for example, the Last Supper shows a whole table full of food, but no-one is eating it. It becomes apparent that this was the norm in art. To be pictured eating was not respectable, and denoted you to possibly be of a lower class. The symbol of the apple in art was also discussed – there is the connection with Adam and Eve and temptation, therefore giving the apple connotations of sexuality and the fall of man.

Contemporary photographer Ralf Schmerberg’s “Dirty Dishes” was a series of work I used in my research. Schmerberg photographed the aftermath of dinners, or scenes in kitchens that we don’t get to (or want to) see. Whether it’s the fag butts on the table, or the grease stains and bones on the bedsheets, these pictures betray the memory of the food that came before. I like it. I want to see the remains that we leave behind; sometimes it’s the results of our excesses, ordering far too much in an Indian restaurant, or the bones that are sucked dry of meat. The sinks full of fat, and the mess made after a party – these are all part of the world of food that we are so obsessed with, but not a part that we wish to remember. This goes for the way we are sheltered in how our food is produced, or how we refuse to acknowledge how wasteful we can be – it all falls under the same umbrella. We are animals, we eat, we make mess. Pictures of these sort should have a place in the art world, even if we the consumers are not prepared to accept them as part of the process of what and how we eat.