Wednesday, 24 April 2013

So you Want to be a Chef

Every now and again I've been known to have an old rant on here.  This is one of those times.  So bear with me or head for the hills now.

There are so many food/cooking programmes on television every evening and most make chef jobs seem so glamorous and desirable.  I will ignore the fact that a large number of these celebrity chefs are not chefs at all, but that is another rant.

Masterchef contestants in particular seem to want to be chefs with a passion and often already have well-established careers they are willing to give up.  

On the other hand every day on Twitter I see and hear of restaurants and hotels moaning that they can't get chefs.  So if there are so many jobs out there and so many unemployed - what's the problem?

It is no secret my son is a young chef and I lived with a French chef for a number of years so I feel slightly qualified to comment.

Young chefs start off at the very bottom of the rung. Both in terms of salary and in the kitchen pecking order.   No harm in that; everyone has to learn.  However, the hours are long.  Longer than your nine to five and almost always unsociable.  When the world is off enjoying themselves at weekends, bank holidays and weekday evenings, chefs are hard at work.  

The pay is minimum to begin and for some reason the hospitality industry feels itself to be exempt from employment law and rarely pays overtime or time in lieu or indeed adheres to maximum hours worked in a twenty four hour period.

Until you make head chef or "executive" head chef, you are destined to work these long, unsocial hours for a pittance.  Of the hundreds who start out, few last and only a small handful make head chef.  In order to be a head chef you obviously must be able to cook, but you must also be able to budget and manage. Managing a team of younger chefs is a talent in itself and some, although great chefs are just not capable of it.

I have heard horror stories from a colleague of my son who made a recording of a well-known, highly celebrated chef hurling vile abuse at a young commis and throwing pans at his head over some minor error he made in plating up.  The stress was such in that particular kitchen that he could no longer bear it and left after a few weeks.

In one place my son worked the tips were never shared with the kitchen staff, but gobbled up by the waiting staff who in most cases worked less hours and were better paid than the kitchen staff.  When I heard this I decided to ask in future before leaving a tip in a hotel or a restaurant if it was shared equally.

If you know any older chefs particularly women you will notice that many look on average ten years older than they are and many, many chefs are burnt out before they reach forty.  One very decorated chef in France, who had moved on to training younger chefs told my son that that is the aim of most chefs as you just can't keep up that work rate and stay sane.

But obviously there are pluses.  A great chef is an artist.  It is a terrific outlet for a talented, creative person and it can be very rewarding.  There is unbelievable camaraderie in a kitchen and as my ex partner said to my son "chefs are like the tinkers, we all know each other".

So now do you still want to be a chef?  

Tags: Chefs Chef jobs Careers in hospitality Masterchef  Celebrity chefs

Monday, 22 April 2013

Coffee Post

Instant coffee gave me stomach cramps and years ago I stopped drinking it.  This was long before "proper" coffee became readily available in restaurants and cafes.

Recently I heard Conor Pope being interviewed on Newstalk about instant coffees.  He commented at the end that buying your own freshly ground coffee worked out at about €1 a cup.

Being an avid reader of anything to do with food or beverages, I read somewhere that ground coffee can have all sorts of other materials in it to bulk it out - which really put me off buying it.  So I started trying to find coffee beans to grind myself.  There is not much of a selection around here, but I started off with a Robert Roberts brand at €4.99 a pack.

We'll ignore the fact Tesco think coffee is Irish

I only drink coffee once a day so I have worked out that I get 9 pots for this price.  That works out at 55 cent a cup (a cup being a decent mug or two small coffee cups).

This is using an old fashioned Italian style coffee pot, which I had to buy a support in order to sit it on my hob.  It tipped over once too many times spilling dark brown liquid down the backs of my new white units.

I have gone through every type of coffee pot known to man.  Here is a selection of what I have left.

I have tried coffee from the Nespressos and the like using capsules and do not rate them at all.  The coffee is way too weak for my tastes, even the strong pods.  The only machine I would rate is the Gaggia, my brother has and it "don't" come cheap, so it would want to be! 

Like tea, coffee tastes better drunk from the correct cup.  I enjoy an espresso occasionally after a good meal particularly when I'm in Italy or France.  When I'm in Ireland I prefer a "decent" cup.

I love the Le Creuset orange espresso cups but the Stephen Pearce and Nicholas Mosse are my favourite everyday cups for a decent cup.

My grinder is years old, bought in England when we lived there and is still buzzing away.  I only use it to grind coffee now as if you put spices in it, it taints the coffee.

I can't wait to try this Java Republic Monkey espresso.....

I really wish Bewleys were still in existance.  The smell of their freshly ground coffees and their selection of coffee beans are vivid childhood memories. When I was small and I went into "town" with my mother it was the smell of the area around Trinity College. My mother bought her coffee and cherry buns or a coffee log for us.  Remember the big bicycle in the window on Westmorland Street?

Tags: Coffee Instant coffee Ground coffee

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Save Money - Ditch the Breasts

Buying individual chicken breasts is very expensive and there is a much cheaper/easier alternative if you invest in a good knife.

A large free range chicken in Aldi costs €5.99.  A boning knife should cost in or around €25.

To begin remove the chicken from the packaging. Even if you are not going to bone out the chicken straight away, do this to store your chicken.  It will keep better and won't sweat.

My boning knife is a Wusthof.

To begin boning a chicken, press down on one of the legs to stretch the skin and slice carefully into it.  Keep pressing down on the leg until you hear a slight crack and then turn the chicken over on it's breast and work the knife around the leg.  You can see where the leg joins the body at a knuckle type joint.  Gently work the knife in between the knuckle and cut the leg free.  It should be easy to do this, if you have to use brute force you are not doing it right.

Remove the other leg in the same manner.

You can see the knuckle joint in this picture and how I have worked the knife around it trimming the meat from the leg, free from the carcass.

To remove the wings pull one out from the body and begin to carefully cut the skin around the base of it.  Work the knife to find the attachment to the carcass as in the leg and ease the knife in behind the joint. It should be easy to cut again.  Remove the other in the same manner.

To remove the first breast slice the knife along the breast bone as in the picture.  Then carefully using the carcass as a guideline gently work the breast free starting at the neck end and working your way down.  Keep the knife pointing more into the carcass so as to remove as much meat as possible.

The first time you do it you will probably leave too much meat on the carcass but don't worry it won't go to waste (nothing does).

Remove the second breast in the same way.

 First breast removed.

Both breasts removed.

Trim up the carcass removing excess skin and fat (I cook and give to the dogs).

You can split the carcass easily to make it fit into a saucepan.

Add this carcass with an onion split in half with skin on, a carrot sliced in chunks and a stick of celery.  Fill up with water and simmer for at least an hour (preferably more).  When it is cool gently remove the meat from the carcass and reserve.  Drain off the stock, straining it through a piece of muslin in a sieve to remove fat and any shards of bone.

Freeze the stock in ice cube trays and when frozen pop them out into a plastic bag.  This way you have stock cubes for later use.

A large chicken like this should give you two good sized breasts at least 220g each. 

Chicken stuffed with goats cheese and pesto
A really delicious way to cook the breasts is to stuff with goats cheese, homemade pesto (frozen in cubes the way I suggest doing the stock) and then wrapping in Pancetta.

Bake in tinfoil in a moderate oven 180 deg C for approx 30 minutes.

I wrap them in cling film and freeze them.  I often cook them from frozen but cook for about 10-15 minutes longer.  You can always defrost in a microwave or naturally if time permits.

Slice the pesto cube in half and add some of the cheese.

Fold the fillet over the stuffing and then cover with the pancetta.

Chicken stuffed and wrapped for cooking immediately or freezing.

So for less than €6 you have two large chicken breasts, 2 legs, 2 wings and at least a litre of stock (the chicken meat you have flaked off the carcass can be used to make chicken soup with your stock).

Two chicken breasts alone normally cost that.

Simples and remember practice makes perfect.

 Tags: Chicken  Boning a chicken  Money saving tips Pancetta wrapped chicken stuffed with goats cheese and pesto

Monday, 8 April 2013

Bowled Over

My new pink bowl with it's ancestors
Flicking through the Aldi magazine recently in the Irish Independent I discovered they were having a bakeware sale.  I always had a hankering for a bowl similar to one my mother and grandmother used when I was a child but never got around to buying one.  So when I saw the ones in the Aldi sale were something similar I was really pleased.

I tweeted about it and there followed a long conversation about the bowls and people's memories of them, either their mother or grandmother's bowls.  And then the clanger, when Colette @katzwizkaz tweeted the ones with hearts around the outside were valuable.

I bet there were lots of pudding bowls rooted out of cupboards to have a quick peek.  I rang my mother and she told me she had hers and my grandaunt's in the shed and I could have them. I held my breath waiting for her to tell me that they had the magical hearts on the outside, but they were the common or garden diamonds.

She arrived for a visit today with the bowls and I set about cleaning them. I always remember the green spot in the smaller one and often wondered was it a flaw or was it intentional.

There is something magical about these bowls, as here in Ireland they were always used for making a big round of soda bread and at Christmas for mixing the pudding.  Many's a child was allowed lick the bowl or stir the pudding in them.  They obviously stirred up lots more memories, in a good way - as someone tweeted that cakes mixed in them tasted better, the way tea in a china cup does.

Both my mother's and my grand aunt's were made by T.G Green and Company in Church Gresley in the U.K and have patent numbers which presumably would date them as they have been manufactured since 1926.  I Googled the name and they are still in existence When I clicked on the site the familiar old blue and white pottery reminded me of a similar set we had at home years ago.

I would love to see if the patent numbers on mine can date them.  For now they are going to be stored in my kitchen for passing on to my daughter and hopefully onto hers.

Sometimes the simplest of items evoke nice warm memories.

Tags: Ceramic Bowls  Christmas pudding Irish soda bread Church Gresley  T.G Green & Co. Ltd