Spicy Lamb Spiral Pie

Spiral 2

 Have you ever been reading a magazine in a doctor’s office or hairdresser’s and seen a great recipe that you just had to have, but you didn’t want to steal the magazine and have huge pangs of guilt? That’s what happened to me the other day when I saw this great recipe for Spicy Lamb Spiral Pie in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine (I hope my hairdresser is not looking at this post)!

I was attracted to this recipe because I love lamb with Moroccan flavors and I also liked the unusual spiral shape of the pastry. How could I copy this recipe and take it home with me? Someone suggested that I take a photo of it with my Iphone but that didn’t work because the print was too fuzzy. I even went to my local library but there was already a 2-month waiting list for the magazine issue I wanted. I traipsed across the street to the supermarket to see if I could buy the magazine but it was already out of print. Another time, my hairdresser allowed me to borrow a particular magazine as long as I returned it the next day (but I wound up keeping it because I couldn’t bear to give up all the wonderful recipes displayed in it)!

 Yes, I was desperate to have this lamb spiral recipe! So the only thing I could think of to do was the Cough and Rip method. This is where you cough and rip the recipe out of the magazine at the same time so no one will hear you. I learned about this method when I saw a documentary about Philippe Petit , the tight rope walker who decided one day to walk across a wire suspended between the Twin Towers in New York after reading a magazine article in a dentists’ office.

So after looking around the hairdresser’s salon to see that none of the other ladies with their hair piled high with curlers and foils was looking, I executed my Cough and Rip procedure. (I must confess that I felt a little guilty and have now subscribed to Better Homes and Gardens to avoid being a recipe thief again).

This recipe was definitely worth the trouble in getting it. The lovely flavors of the lamb mixture blends well with the buttery filo pastry. It can be a little tricky to mold the filo pastry cylinders into a spiral shape but don’t worry if the spiral doesn’t look perfect- it’s the taste that counts!

P.S. Would love it if you’d ‘like’ my G’day Souffle’ Facebook page- it would make my day!

Lamb Spiral

 

Spicy Lamb Spiral Pie
Serves 4
You'll enjoy the Moroccan flavors of the lamb set in an interesting spiral shape of filo pastry
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Ingredients
  1. 9 sheets filo pastry
  2. 4 tbsp melted butter (approx.)
  3. 1 medium onion, chopped
  4. 2 garlic cloves, diced
  5. 1 lb (1/2 kg) lamb mince (ground lamb)
  6. 2 tbsp tomato paste
  7. 1 tsp cardamom powder
  8. 2 tsp fennel seeds
  9. 1 tsp cinnamon
  10. 2-3 tbp pine nuts
  11. 2-3 tbp raisins
  12. 1 tsp coriander powder
  13. ¼ cup chicken or beef stock
  14. Salt/pepper to taste
For the garnish
  1. Poppy seeds and sesame seeds
  2. Several torn mint leaves
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven at 350 F (180 C). Heat the chopped onion and diced garlic in a little oil on the stovetop until they soften. Add the lamb and cook until brown- drain any excess fat from the pan. Add the remaining ingredients (except the garnish) and stir over medium heat for at least 10 minutes until all the flavors infuse. The mixture should be moist but not runny. If it’s too dry, add a little more stock to the pan. Let cool while you prepare the filo pastry.
  2. Spread some melted butter on one sheet of filo pastry, covering the edges first, then spreading the butter all through the center. Add two more sheets on top, covering each one first with a layer of melted butter.
  3. Spread a thin layer of the lamb mixture along the bottom of the filo pastry, leaving a margin of about two inches on each side of the pastry .Fold the sides of the pastry inward, then starting from the bottom, roll up the pastry into a tight cylinder shape. Repeat this process twice more until you have a total of three cylinders. Form the three cylinders into one spiral shape, starting from the center and working outwards. Try to join the ends of the three spiral pieces together by rubbing your wet finger along the seams of the spiral ends (don’t worry if the pieces don’t join together smoothly). Brush the entire spiral with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds and several torn mint leaves. Bake at 350 F (180 C) for about 15 minutes or until the pastry turns golden brown.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine
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Mile-High Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

Muffins

I baked these Blueberry Muffins with a crunchy streusel topping and I loved them so much, I couldn’t help gathering them up in my arms and giving them a big hug. In fact, I gave these muffins a little bit extra ‘crunch’ by adding a pinch of praline (nougat) topping from my previous post Frozen Chocolate Nougat with Sour Cherry Coulis.

Muffins

I was inspired to make these muffins because my hubby, Len, eats a Blueberry Muffin every morning, rain or shine. He buys his muffins from the supermarket and I was curious to see if I could make mine better.

I followed a standard muffin recipe but I added plain yoghurt instead of milk, which helps to give the muffins a nice moist velvety texture. The buttery streusel topping sends you into that phase of saying, “I’ll have another one, please!”

One tip in making these muffins: be sure to gently fold in the wet egg/sugar mixture into the dry flour mixture, rather than beating it with the electric mixture. This helps to retain the light fluffy texture of the muffins. I also like filling the batter all the way to the top of each muffin tin, in order to give them that Mile-high appearance

And the verdict: Len said my Blueberry Muffins were definitely better than the supermarket ones. There’s no turning back now- looks like I’ll have to supply Len now with his daily muffins for the rest of his life!

 

Mile-high Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping
Yields 8
A light velvety Blueberry muffin with a buttery crumb topping
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For the Muffins
  1. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  2. 3 tsp baking powder
  3. ½ tsp salt
  4. 2 large eggs
  5. ¾ cup sugar
  6. 1 cup plain yogurt
  7. ½ cup butter
  8. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  9. 1 ½ cups blueberries- fresh or frozen (thawed)
For the Streusel Topping
  1. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  2. 1 tsp cinnamon
  3. ½ cup brown sugar
  4. 4 tbsp softened butter
  5. Optional: crushed praline (nougat) topping
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 C (400 F) and line a muffin pan with muffin wrappers (patty pans). Alternatively, you can choose not to use the wrappers and instead butter the insides of the muffin tins to prevent sticking.
  2. To make the streusel crumb topping, combine the flour, cinnamon, brown sugar. Add the softened butter and rub the mixture between the palms of your hands until it becomes crumbly. Set aside.
  3. To make the muffins, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the smooth. Continue to beat in the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Gently fold in the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until blended. Now fold in the 1 ½ cups of blueberries (being careful not to over-mix the ingredients).
  4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling the batter all the way to the top of each tin.
  5. Sprinkle the streusel topping generously on top of each muffin. For an added for optional ‘crunch’, sprinkle a little crushed praline (nougat) on top of each muffin (see my previous post on how to make crushed nougat).
  6. Place the muffins in the oven and immediately reduce to 185 C (375 F). Bake about 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for several minutes and serve.
G'day Soufflé http://www.gdaysouffle.com/

 

 

 

Surviving the Le Cordon Bleu Superior Final Exam

Exam

As some of my readers know, I completed the Diploma of Cuisine at the Paris Le Cordon Bleu School. That was one year ago and the glitz of the graduation ceremony and the after-party has long worn off. However, every once in awhile I think back to the  final practical exam I had to do in order to graduate, remembering the hard work and stress.

For the exam, we were given a list of ingredients required to design a verrine appetizer and a main course with various side dishes. We were then given 4 hours to prepare and execute our dishes in a high intensity atmosphere- for every minute you went over the 4 hours, you were docked 1 point! Adding to the stress was the knowledge that Le Cordon Bleu had failed 9 students at the Paris school the previous semester and 7 students the semester before that. Prior to the exam, I would wake up several times in the middle of the night wondering if I would pass or not- “What was someone MY AGE doing in Paris going through all that stress? Shouldn’t I be home pottering in the garden or perhaps knitting some booties?”

Well, here is my story.

The Ateliers (Workshops)

In order to help prepare us for the final exam, the Cordon Bleu school held two practice workshops (ateliers) several weeks before the exam. For the first atelier, we were required to prepare an appetizer and main course using essential ingredients of sea bream, jumbo shrimp, chicken, avocado and rock melon (as well as 10 other ingredients). The main challenge was to design a dish where all the ingredients fit together, rather than looking like a hodgepodge.

I decided to save the chicken for my main course and use the sea bream and jumbo shrimp for the appetizer. I first filleted the fish, poached it, then placed it inside a ring mold lined on the outside with thinly sliced zucchini pieces. I also placed several drops of coriander (cilantro) coulis around the rock melon to enhance the flavour- I normally don’t like rock melon but this coulis actually made the melon taste good! I also made a smear of white beurre blanc sauce to go on the plate.

I sweated for 5 hours in this workshop without a break and was pretty satisfied with my dishes, but unfortunately the chef cut my work down in about 60 seconds flat.

The Chef’s Verdict:

  • use an odd-number of rock melon pieces (3 pieces) instead of even-numbered 4 pieces
  • he didn’t like the coulis
  • don’t use the beurre blanc sauce, it’s not necessary for the plate
  • the zucchini ring stuffed with the sea bream looked ‘too heavy’ on the plate; being an appetizer, it should be smaller with fewer elements on the plate
  • the thin line of brunoise vegetables on the plate was the only thing he liked!

He was equally dismissive of my main course dish with the stuffed chicken breasts, refusing to even taste my red pepper sabayon sauce! Oh well, I thought, maybe I’ll do better at the next atelier scheduled for two weeks later.

The second atelier workshop didn’t go any better, with the chef telling me several times that I was “failing” since I wasn’t keeping my work station clean enough. This workshop required using sardines as one of the main ingredients, so I decided to copy a recipe that was presented to us previously in the Intermediate Cuisine class last semester. Certainly he couldn’t say anything negative about my dish now?

The chef’s verdict: “Your dish looks like something a 5-year-old could have done!” This chef also told me the following week that I was “too old to do modern plating.” This was during a practical class where I was struggling to plate up a veal dish- finally I just placed everything on the plate and hoped for the best. That he thought I was trying to do “modern plating” was laughable! Whatever happened to the concept of “positive re-enforcement” in the classroom? Anyway, with a lot of negativity surrounding me, I was seriously starting to doubt whether I would survive the upcoming 4-hour superior cuisine exam!

Finally, a breath of fresh air appeared in the form of Chef Marc Vaca! We were now given the list of principal ingredients for our final exam: golden chanterelle mushrooms, a flat fish turbot and shrimp were to be used (along with other ingredients) to design and execute a verrine appetizer and main course (to be plated up and duplicated on four separate plates). We were strongly advised to first discuss our proposed exam dishes with a chef, to ensure we were on track. I asked Chef Vaca to be my adviser and he spent over an hour one evening with me discussing my proposed dishes. He was very enthusiastic, approving of some of my ideas and bouncing off new ones- it was also fascinating listening to him talk about his own past experience with chef competitions. The practice run-through of our final exam was coming up in a few days and I was now starting to feel a bit more confident.

The practice run-through

This practice run-through allowed us to prepare our dishes under exam conditions before the “final day” arrived. My confidence took a nose-dive when I found it took me 5 hours to prepare my dishes instead of the required 4 hours! As one chef said, “if you are late more than ten minutes, then you may as just well go home because you’ll fail!” With only 3 days to go before the final exam, I know I had to do some serious practicing to try and get my routine down to 4 hours. That night, I lay awake with knots in my stomach, wondering how I could shave off one whole hour from my exam.

The next day, I went out and bought all the ingredients to practice my exam run-through at home, including a 70 euro ($100) turbot fish. I tried to think of a mantra that would inspire me during the exam and I came up with a line from a Seinfeld show: “You can do it, and you will do it!” This was the line from Elaine’s psychiatrist, Dr Reston, when he tried to convince her to call Kramer to verify that Kramer was really her boyfriend.

Line from Seinfeld: “You can, and you will!”

Reston photo

When I went through the practice run-through at home, I tried to fillet the turbot in less than 10 minutes, but I just couldn’t mange it, it was such a big fish to handle- but not to worry- I still had 3 hours and 50 minutes left to finish up everything. Armed with my mantra of “You can and you will!” and a fierce determination to finish on time, I was able to finish my run-through in 3 hours and 45 minutes- leaving me enough time to finish and plate up nicely! What a relief and there were no knots in my stomach that night!

Here is a picture of the verrine appetizer that I did for the exam, consisting of garlic mousse on top of marinated shrimp and artichoke hearts, set in a tomato base.

Exam Here is a picture of my main course ‘Turbot with chanterelle mushroom sauce’– however when I added all the other elements to the plate, I thought it looked a little crowded and ‘not pulled together.’

Turbot with chanterelle mushrooms

Turbot with chanterelle mushrooms

 

Final exam plate

Final exam plate

The Day of the Final Exam

The day of the final exam finally arrived- the school scheduled the students to start their exams spaced ten minutes apart- I was scheduled to start in the third slot starting at 8:30 am. I was afraid that the ‘mean chef’ would be supervising the exam (the one who told me I was failing and that I was ‘too old’ to do modern plating). When I entered the room, I was relieved to see that Chef Vaca would be supervising.

During the exam, everything went reasonably smoothly- no sauces were burned, no fish were ruined due to bad filleting techniques. First off the bat was to get the beets soaking in a vinegar solution in order to pickle them, then to fillet the turbot and prepare a sauce using the bones of the fish, and to roast a whole head of garlic in order to make the garlic mousse (but watch out, the garlic is very hot when trying to handle it). Every few minutes, I said my mantra to myself, “You can, and you will!”

As the four hours was almost up, I found I was racing against time: I would not be able to finish in time to plate up nicely- it would be a dash to just get everything on the four plates. Five minutes before I had to finish, I started to dish up my 4 verrines before turning to my main dishes. Something inspiring started to happen here. A rallying cry came from one of the other students who had just finished her exam, “Come on Fran, you can do it, hurry up!” I was amazed that another student was trying to encourage me. Then another amazing thing happened, the assistant who was assigned to help out and to deliver the finished dishes to the judges also started to yell, “Come on, you can do it!” She even rushed over to my station and helped me to plate up some of my verrines for me. I eventually got everything plated up right on the nose of four hours- not a second to spare. However, I was a little disappointed that I had to leave off a few of the decorative elements on my plates and that I couldn’t do my plating satisfactorily.

After I started to clean up my station in order to leave, I heard the chef yell to a student, “Vous êtes onze minutes en retard!” (you are 11 minutes late!). I felt sorry for him but I later found out that he passed his exam. I wasn’t sure if I had passed or not and I would have to wait 5 days to find out- it turns out that I did pass!

Why have I written so much here about the final exam at the Cordon Bleu School? Perhaps it was to allow me a chance to whinge and to get some things off my chest. But another reason is to encourage you to try to succeed even when others try to discourage you with their negativity. Also to show that other people will willingly rally around you even when you were not expecting it! You can and you will!

Tell me dear reader, have you ever had an inspiring experience or had to overcome negativity from someone?

Chef Marc Vaca and me at the Paris Le Cordon Bleu graduation ceremony

Exam

 

 

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