Friday 26 October 2012

The Cookout with Le Creuset at Silwood Kitchen

How is that for name dropping? Cooking at the oldest cookery school in the country as the guest of the famous Le Creuset brand cookware.
Well, it happened to me. I received an invitation from Gillian MacGregor, the marketing manager of Le Creuset, to attend one of their customer evenings at the Silwood Kitchen in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.
All of this because I use their cookware and flaunt it. I flaunt the cookware because it does really deliver the goods and makes for a pleasant cooking experience.
People following my blog will know that I like cooking. They will also understand that the cooking that we do on board a small yacht out at sea differs from your everyday cooking by being limited both in ingredients and equipment. So it was indeed a privilege and a welcome change to go and experience a smooth running kitchen. I was very exited when Gill called me with the invite. Almost danced a small gigue then.
We arrived at the school on a late Thursday afternoon, where we were greeted by Gary of the Silwood Cookery School and our instructor for the evening. This was actually quite an eye opener to arrive just before dusk and to see the garden at the school. The setting is quite idyllic, with large trees in the garden.
We were duly plied with wine to ease our nerves. The school staff made us chef's hats and we were issued with bright orange aprons to round off the looks.

The kitchen, of course, was immaculate and their were little packages of welcoming presents for all of us. A kind gesture from Le Creuset. Amongst other things, the package contained a mini fluted flan dish which we were going to use for the tarte tatin that we making later on.
The menu for the evening was pasta alla saffi with home-made pasta (asparagus, broad beans ham),
Thai chicken curry and banana and blueberry tarte tatin. All, except the curry being foreign terms to me. My pasta experience is limited to the spaghetti Bolognese version that we make on board. A far cry from what we were to experience.
We started off with making the tarte tatin, as these need baking and thus take a long time. The very famous upside-down French dessert. You make it upside down, then turn it over before serving it. The first part of it was making the caramel. I have never done this before, so it was nice doing it under supervision of a pro! A neat trick to get even consistency and colour in the caramel is to add a little fluid to the sugar. The caramel went into the flan dish first. Then, after letting the caramel cool somewhat, the banana and blueberries are added. Over this goes a piece of puff pastry slightly larger than the dish. The pastry gets tucked into the dish, as this will be the serving platform when the cooking is done and you turn it over. These went into the oven and the next item on the menu started.
Which was the curry. This was made by frying the onions, sweet pepper and garlic in oil, then adding the curry paste and, after frying all of this for a minute or two, the coconut milk. This sauce was then boiled over medium heat to reduce before the chicken was added. At the end some fresh basil and coriander leaves are added. A wonderful dish indeed.
I had a discussion about the recipe with Gary, our instructor. The discussion centred on the preparation time. Again, I learned something new. The difference between my procedure and the school's one is the order of proceedings in making the dish. This does make a difference. Of course, it is rather nice having all the spices ready as you need it. Very nice at the school. However, at home and on the boat I have to do it all by myself. A labour of love well worth the effort, given the results.

Lastly we made the pasta. Gary demonstrated the procedure for making the pasta from the basic raw ingredients. Not too difficult, but you need to pay attention. Certainly worth the effort as well. Fresh pasta is not to be sneezed at. And this one especially, made with fresh spinach. The tagliatelli came out a dark green colour. We had ready-mixed pasta to process, which was a lot of fun. I don't have a pasta mill at home, so I have to make do with an Indian rolling pin, and a cutting board. The Indian rolling pin is about as thick as a Tabasco bottle and tapers towards the ends. This gives a lot of leverage to get the dough thin. When the dough gets to large, simply cut it into long strips and roll these out to the desired thickness. The lesson here is to measure the quantities. 100 grams of flour makes a huge amount of pasta. I once made pasta a la Jamie Oliver by chucking the whole packet of flour onto the work surface, adding salt and three eggs and mixing the lot. We had pasta for the next week, after the missus threw away the rest. So, a proper lesson indeed.
The pasta alla Saffi tastes of heaven. The fresh spinach flavour goes very well with the asparagus and peas, the cream consolidates the flavours. Hmmmm!
I also had the opportuity of cooking with the triple layer stainless steel saucepans made by Le Creuset. A marvellous concept indeed. The pan heats up very quickly and keeps its heat. They are not too heavy and the handle lies comfortably in the hand. What a pleasure to use these. There is one on my shopping list, along with a round cast iron casserole to complement the buffet casserole and saucepan that we already own. Perhaps another smaller saucepan. These work a treat as well. Once these cast iron pots are up to heat you can turn the gas way down low, even on the smallest setting. We have been using our 32 cm buffet casserole extensively over the last year and this heat retention rings true. You use the lowest setting on the smallest burner of the gas stove to keep the pot boiling. Literally. Our gas usage runs to 9kg over six to eight months, cooking every day. The variation is attributable to having dinner guests over more than twice a month.
The food was delicious. The evening a pleasure. And all of us amateur, part time home chefs enjoyed ourselves to bits.
And we all learnt something.
Thanks again to Le Creuset and the Silwood Kitchen.

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

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