What I actually fill my day with...

I decided it was high time I did something novel and surprising. Namely, to actually talk about Tante Marie for the duration of a post, rather than squeezing it into the last couple of paragraphs. So without any ramble that may distract me, here’s a far more in depth summary than I’ve managed so far of an average week at Tante Marie. Monday morning we were in the kitchens cooking cheese bread, duck breasts with wilted rocket, minted jersey royal new potatoes and a pate sucree base for a tarte aux fruits. Then in the afternoon was our first session of three in which we decorate our cakes. Having gone back and forth for a long time, I finally settled on trying to do two white roses, as many daffodils as I can make and then leaves (exciting I know) to fill the gaps if it doesn’t look right. I would like to say that the session was a roaring success and that one third of the work is done. Unsurprisingly, this is not the case.

Yellow flowers that don't yet quite look like daffodils.

As you can see, some half made daffodil heads are sitting in egg boxes to dry until next week. Despite this, I’m fairly optimistic about getting the full design done. The problem with the first session was that from the outset very few people knew what they were doing so you had to wait until the teacher had time to explain to you how to make your particular flower before you could really get going. I’m of the feeling that next week’s session will be far more productive now that everyone knows what they’re doing.

Onion tarts

Tuesday morning was in the kitchen again. This time making rough puff pastry for the first time, starting our beef and guinness pie filling and crepes suzettes. However, more interestingly, in the afternoon we had a demonstration of our budget lunch exam, which we have in just over a month. The basic premise is a three course family meal for four people for £8.50. Whilst the quality of what you are cooking is obviously important, this particular exam’s focus appears to be more on the idea of trying to come up with dishes that can be cooked on a budget  so it is as much about planning as the on the day cooking itself. So in the demo Alex cooked individual onion tarts, spiced mackerel, hot spring green salad, potato wedges and blackcurrant cheesecake. Really quite surprising just how much you can do for £8.50.

Spiced mackerel

As if that wasn’t enough to be thinking about, on Wednesday afternoon we had a theory class on our intermediate practical exam which we have next week. In the morning we finished our beef and Guinness pies and made the blackcurrant cheesecake we had seen demonstrated the previous day. The exam lasts for an afternoon session and then the following morning so you serve the final food at lunch. We have to serve three courses - starter, main with a potato variant and a vegetable, and a dessert-  which we will be told half an hour before the exam (and serve it with bread rolls). We  have a short list of what the possible exam dishes can be so, after cooking at Tante Marie all day, I’ve been coming home this week and cooking one of the exam dishes for dinner, with somewhat mixed success.

Blackcurrant cheesecakes

Then this morning we had an afternoon tea demonstration with all manner of cakes and savoury goodies including tartlettes aux fraises au fromage, bouchee au chocolat and herb scones with smoked salmon. Then in the afternoon we had an excellent fish lecture from fishmonger Roy (whose surname now escapes me). He brought in what must have been about 15-20 types of fish and talked us through what to look for in each one and demonstrated filleting them. Tomorrow morning we have a ‘meat’ equivalent where a butcher will break down various animals and show us the cuts.

Beef and guiness pie and carrots vichy

Hopefully that provides a decent summary of the sort of things I’m actually filling my time with, and also goes some way to explaining why I’ve already become more lazy about writing these blogs. Hopefully that’ll change when I’ve got next week’s exam out the way. In fact, Saturday should provide a mountain of fresh material as Rich, Joe, James and I embark on the challenge that is the London Whisky festival. Possibly not the best idea given the aforementioned exam next week, but some things in life are just too important to pass up on.