Thursday, 14 June 2012

L'atelier des Chefs - a cookery class!

I spent an enjoyable evening yesterday at a cookery class at L'atelier des Chefs, a small cookery school near Oxford Circus (with a new second school just opened near St Paul's). I had bought a gift card for the experience for friend Dave, and went along with him to his chosen course, with another friend too.

Between the school's two bright and modern premises they run up to ten classes a day, ranging from thirty minutes to four hours in length and offering everything from quick one-course lunches, to five course feasts, to themed meals, to masterclasses in sushi, pasta-making, knife skills, confectionery and more (see a range of classes here). Our class, called 'Elegant Entertaining', cooked a three course meal of confit duck leg with lardons, walnuts, croutons and a fried quail's egg...

...crispy fillet of sea bass served with braised fennel and a brown shrimp vélouté (and roasted baby potatoes)...

...and a mille feuille filled with a light Nutella cream and raspberries, served with an orange and Grand Marnier glaze.

All this in ninety minutes, with time to relax and enjoy the meal and a glass of wine (not included in the price, which I thought was a shame) with the rest of the group afterwards.

There were fourteen people in our class, so for economy's sake the process inevitably involved some teamwork (working loosely in three groups, so that things were prepared in small batches rather than everyone having their own pan) and not everybody got to perform every task in the making of the dishes, but it was well-balanced, everyone got to play their part, and the atmosphere was really friendly and relaxed. (Click here for a picture of the kitchen set up and ready for our class.)

Being a keen cook, I wasn't really sure in advance whether I would learn much from the class, but I certainly picked up a few tips - such as how to properly pin-bone a fish fillet, and some useful sauces. However, I thought the real value of the class was the opportunity to do things I wouldn't normally - like the quail eggs, the duck confit, the shrimp veloute and the mille feuille (and that thing where you cut orange segments out of their membranes, which I've always avoided but isn't too tricky really!). The staff were really cheerful, helpful and knowledgeable, the food was delicious, and the recipes are emailed to participants after the class - a nice touch - so we all get to recreate the dishes at home if we so wish.

Though it's not likely to revolutionise your home cooking in one go, a class like this is great fun and a really good way to broaden your cooking experience and pick up tips. £54 for a three course meal (sans wine) plus the experience of cooking new things with a professional chef and fellow enthusiasts seems pretty good value to me, and I may well do it again sometime...

Thank you, L'atelier des Chefs!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Beautiful Bees - part two!

I couldn't resist - the bees were loving the sunshine and the phacelia at the allotment today and I took loads more pictures.


We did also get some work done; the leeks are now planted out (better late than never), and the onions, garlic, strawberries, potatoes and asparagus thoroughly weeded - and the strawberries safely netted. Now if we can just clear enough space to get our sweetcorn and pumpkins planted we'll be back on track...

Beautiful Bees

Just a few quick pictures taken this morning of bees enjoying my sage flowers. They looooves them sage flowers.

Good to see the first tomatoes forming this morning, too, and the mangetout ready to eat at last.

We're still waaaaay behind on the allotment, but planning to do some catching up today... Wish us luck!

Friday, 1 June 2012

There goes May...

I've been pretty busy these last two weeks and neglecting my poor blog again, but with June (and some sunshine!) here now it's got to be time for at least a little update on things in the garden.

The early potatoes are loving their grow sacks and their sheltered spot by the house. No sign of any flowers yet, which will mean time to start harvesting spuds, but it won't be long.

The tomatoes and peppers are all settled into their pots and tubs and planters. There's a lot of em! In the picture below you can also see lettuces and radishes, kailan, mangetout, strawberries, various herbs and a courgette.

The tomatoes are starting to flower.

The French beans I planted during the wet, cold weather a few weeks back never germinated, but a new sowing is now popping up, both below left and in another big planter. And I've planted up a lot of smaller pots with Swiss chard and perpetual spinach, and sown salad burnet in others. Hate to see pots empty!

The first courgettes are on their way...

The mangetout is flowering, and beautiful!

The aubergines and West Indian gherkins (pictured) are planted permanently in the plastic greenhouse for a little extra warmth and shelter. I've never managed to grow an aubergine yet - I'm hoping this is the year!

And the herb garden is flourishing and wonderful! I am actually remembering to sow successional crops of spring onions (tucked at the back there), and getting loads of use out of the herbs. Wooo!

I also have beetroots growing in a window box, cucumbers in a grow bag and various pots of poached-egg plant, poppies and marigolds on their way.

At the allotment I'm afraid it's another story. The weeks of rain really helped the grass to run riot and kept us away for the most part, and we're still catching up. The maincrop potatoes are planted and just shooting up now, the asparagus is plodding along despite less-than-ideal conditions, and we've got some garlic and onions doing fabulously well, but the strawberries are under a jungle of weeds and we still have to clear room for our pumpkins and squashes, artichokes, a new batch of perennial brassicas and some cabbages and calabrese. Oh, and some kohlrabi, celery and celeriac... Not exactly sure where I'm gonna put those... I haven't sown any parsnips and I guess it's probably too late now. But more on that another day...
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