Cheryl Smith's sabbatical 2011 travel blog

Robert having too much fun with the blow torch roasting a pepper

the before of the veggie ragout

the after (minus the peppers)

the Smiths cutting apples - note the knife skills

our apple tarte tartin ready for the pastry top

Helen giving the leg of lamb an extra shot of searing

the lamb "resting" under the towels after 23 minutes in the oven

while we cooked, the painters painted

Thursday was a busy day in the kitchen at Cook in France. It was a day where we learned to burn our food intentionally using a blow torch! First we started with peppers skewered with two long prongs (so they wouldn’t slide off we used two – a tip from the chef) and then we set to work to burn the skin to a black crisp. Next step was to drop the burnt pepper into a plastic bag for five minutes to sweat before we washed the blacked skin off at the sink. Watch the video here.

It’s been a popular week for fennel as it showed up again today as a key ingredient in our Tomato and Fennel Ragout. After Tuesday’s lesson we were all pros at preparing our fennel and chopping tomatoes that were freshly picked from garden. I loved banging garlic with the flat side of the knife and see the skin pop off – after years of peeling garlic and having the skin stick to my fingers this was so much easier. And of course we sprinkled everything liberally with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil both delivered from a high height. Watch the video here. Oh, I forgot to mention the booze, we covered the veggies in a generous cup of white wine and a couple of measures of Noilly Prat vermouth. (Hic)

My vegetarian friends reading this should perhaps skip this paragraph. Next came the leg of lamb, well actually three legs of lamb. We conducted an experiment with the cooking of one leg in a vacuum sealed bag in boiling water but I’m getting ahead of myself. First we stuffed the fat side of the leg by slicing a hole, making it bigger with our finger and putting a sliver of garlic and orange zest and a piece of rosemary in each hole. Before moving on to the next hole we banged the previous one to make sure the stuffing was well and truly in the meat. Having the pieces sticking out looks good for photographs but does nothing for flavouring we learned. All three legs were seared in a hot frying pan and if that wasn’t enough we also got the blow torch out! One leg was vacuum sealed and cooked in boiling water and the other two were cooked in the oven – 16 minutes on one side and 7 on the other. We took them out of the oven and covered them both with foil and a stack of about 15 or so towel to keep the meat hot. Later we served both with the gang all agreeing that the boil-in-a-bag meat was softer but both tasted equally fantastic. Watch the video here.

Another ex-Brit working there was Liz who taught us the art and science of making Tarte Tatin. Ours has the “S” on the pastry. Watch video here

And then came the Cous Cous which I will confess is not always my favourite as it sometimes tastes yummy and other times like sawdust. Ours of course tasted fantastic. This is where the roasted red peppers were added all chopped finely using our newly-mastered cheffy knife chopping skills but only at the last minute so you won't see them in the video. Watch the video here.

The cinammon ice cream we had made yesterday was served with the Tarte Tartin and I saw several of my fellow sous chefs going back for seconds….:)

Then while all of this was happening the two painting students were hard at work outside with Eric the instructor. It was nice to have an appreciative audience to cook for as they came in for the meals we prepared and made all the right encouraging ohhss and ahhhs. We through our chests out with pride. Watch the video here.

And in between all this hard work we had time for a dip in the pool.

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