Team Greedy (or Slapdash and Detail at the Nom Nom Nom Awards)

>> Sunday 25 July 2010

Sunday morning on the 11th July saw us cheerfully sweating in a hot kitchen, preparing a three course, seasonal meal for the Nom Nom Noms.

We rocked up at The Cookery School at 9.30am and were greeted with reassuringly strong coffee, warm cheese scones and caraway seed muffins. Om nom nom.

After drawing lots for where we
would be cooking, we were unleashed for shopping at the posh and pricey local farmer’s market. Unhelpfully, the local Waitrose didn’t open until 11am so by about 10.45am a sizable queue of people
with telltale Cookery School bags had built up. We weren’t the only ones though – seems the local residents were also eager to swag their Waitrose fodder early. Seriously – there was a queue. Outside Waitrose.
As soon as the doors were open we performed a speedy supermarket sweep of last minute essentials not available at the market before hot-footing it back to the cookery school for a quick health and safety chat and the kick off of the cook off!

We had two and a half hours to cook three courses for four people. “Oodles of time!” we thought. Oh dear. One of the rules was that one of the three courses had to be raw, with no cooking involved. We ummmed and ahhhed about what this actually meant. Could we get away with dressed crab? It would have been cooked, though not by us... Could we get away with making a jelly? There's some gentle heating involved... We even pondered cerviche, but, living,
as Vic does, with a man who is seriously allergic to fish, we decided this could be a little
hazardous to practise. In the end, we opted for a simple, tasty gazpacho that packs a refreshing garlicy punch. Even with that, we were worried that using bread (it's been baked after all) would be against the raw rules. It turned out, the rules were much more flexible than we feared and it was clear the uncooked course was necessary due to a limit of hob and oven space and pre-cooked ingredients were happily accepted.

For the main, we opted for duck breasts with gooseberry sauce, Pommes Anna and seasonal veg. Talking to our fellow competitors, most people had a course that didn’t go quite to plan and this was definitely ours. We got utterly muddled by the kitchen clock that was set to the
wrong time and so forgot to get our spuds in the oven as quickly as was needed. There we were, lazily brushing the layers with butter, having a natter thinking we were well ahead of schedule and all the while crucial cooking time was slipping by. The Pommes Anna were only just cooked through and didn't quite have time to go deliciously brown on top. Duck breasts are usually a total breeze to cook. Pound together some salt and toasted Sechuan peppercorns in the pestle and mortar and coat the scored skins with the fragrant pepper. Mmmm look, toasting peppercorns:

Then place the duck breasts, skin-side down, in a pan over a low heat to render off most of the fat. Once the rendered fat has been poured off, you whack up the heat to crisp up the skin for a few minutes, before turning it over for a further few minutes to cook through. Once the duck breasts have rested on a warm plate, they should be pink and juicy with a crispy, fragrantly spiced skin. Unfortunately this demands fairly delicate temperature control and neither of us have used an electric hob since Home Economics lessons at school.

We are both firm believers in cooking over flames, and spent a significant portion of our time staring helplessly at the electric hobs, clueless as to their mysteries. Ideally, Vic needed two hobs for the duck - one preheated to high heat and the other on a gentle heat for the rendering of the fat, but with the hobs full of the other contenders' tasty dishes bubbling away, she had to cope with just the one. After 5 minutes in the pan, the duck just didn't seem to be doing anything! Certain choice swear words passed our lips and this moment. After 10 minutes the pan was still barely tepid and the clock was ticking. Vic swapped hobs, deciding to forgo the rendering of the fat and just go for the crispy skin, so bunged it on a hob that had already been turned up to the max for someone else's dish, but still there was no sizzling to be seen. The hob had been turned off instead of up. Eek! Disaster! Through some strange alchemy (which Tamzin
is still in awe of) Vic managed to get the duck cooked in time.

For pud, it just had to be CAKE! We decided on a white chocolate and pistachio cake filled with raspberry mascarpone cream - light and fruity enough for a hot Summer's day, but still indulgent and decadent. The fragrant pistachios cut through the nursery sweetness of the white chocolate to balance out the flavours and make the whole thing feel a bit more grown-up and sophisticated. The raspberry mascarpone cream is rich and creamy, cut through with fresh, sweet and tangy seasonal berries.

The baking of the cake was straightforward enough - and we should hope so too, as Victoria makes wedding cakes for a living. It tasted delicious, though the presentation was a bit slap-dash and last minute.

As a result of our less than perfect time management skills, Tamzin had to build the cake (having never done it before) while Victoria hollered instructions from the other side of the kitchen while simultaneously incanting spells to get the electric hobs hot enough for the duck. In her eagerness, Tamzin added a few too many layers resulting in a vertiginous if decadent looking offering. With about a second to spare, we cut a slice and chucked it on a plate and then scattered around some raspberries in an attempt to posh up the presentation. This was definitely a case of it tasted better than it looked. We just hoped the judges agreed!

In the end, we managed to plate up our three courses with half a sweaty second to spare, but neither of us could pretend it was the best meal we'd ever served. Our duck was surprisingly tasty and tender, our potatoes were very slightly underdone, but still had a nice, buttery, well-seasoned flavour. Our greens – having suffered the same hob-based problems as the duck - were cooked, buttered and plonked on the plate at the eleventh hour. Our gooseberry sauce reduced well, was sweet with a refreshing tart kick and was suitably gooseberry-y. All in all, it could have been worse, but it should have been better. And if we could get in the Back to the Future DeLorean, we would certainly ensure we had left some time for prettifying our plating-up style.

We didn't win, but we had a ball and can’t wait for the chance to compete again next year if we’re able. We got to keep our cookery school aprons and went home with goodie bags, stuffed full of treats. The other teams were lovely and there was a genuine sense of support and camaraderie. After the cook off we got the chance to fill our bellies with plates piled high with the delicious food cooked
by all the excellent contenders. We had our glasses frequently topped up by the lovely staff at The Cookery School, so staggered home very merry little cooks indeed.

We both loved being a part of The Nom Nom Noms and were warmly looked after by the wonderful staff at The Cookery School.

Particular thanks must go to Ros and Claudine for making the day such a total pleasure and a triumph to boot. Also a big thanks to the brilliant Annie for having so much passion, not to mention uber-organisational skills, to make the event such a success and for such a worthy cause: Action Against Hunger.

Action Against Hunger works in over 40 countries to carry out innovative, lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water and sanitation, health and advocacy. Every year, their 6,000 aid workers help over 4 million people worldwide. Please support their amazing work by entering the Nom Nom Nom raffle. For just £10 you could be in the running to win amazing foodie prices and simultaneously give to a thoroughly deserving cause.

Vote for Team Greedy here


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