“Please turn in your assignment”
My Natural Chef course wasn’t all about swanning about in a kitchen decorating cakes and learning the nutritional benefits of kale. We had to work for our qualifications – at school and outside of school. Homework assignments, midterm exams, demonstrations & final presentations punctuated the course schedule and were a constant reminder that if we wanted to succeed in this new world, we had to work for it. Homework assignments usually included a recipe invention task with the aim of developing our skills and knowledge from the latest chapter covered in class. The recipe was always accompanied by a short write up demonstrating the nutritional who, what, when, where and why’s. For me it felt not too different from writing a blog post, but with credited nutritional references and less of the informal witterings often associated with blog posts. After 3 years of blogging in conversational language, writing with an official tone felt all kinds of strange.
I usually chose a bright sunny day to cook so I could make use of the Californian Winter sunshine to take some bright photographs in my adopted back yard. I am sure you can see the sunshine bounce straight from my food. With thanks to my adopted housemates for all the wonderful crockery I was able to make use of. I now really miss the blue stripy plates I so adored and featured in some of my posts and daily breakfast pics. My expanding waistline was also grateful for the help my housemates provided in eating up some of my creations. Perfect critics who always give positive reviews!
I’ve actually featured some of my best assignment recipes with you already. I’d worked so hard on them – and since they had a strong nutritional (& Californian) influence it it just made sense to feature them on the blog during my time in America;
- Grain & legume technique assignment – Autumn Vegetable & Red Quinoa Salad with Zahtar Dressing
- Protein technique assignment – Lamb Keema with Parsnips & Peas
- Farm to table seasonal assignment (December) – Celeriac & Parsnip Sesame Slaw
- For my first cooking demo – a 15 minute demo on the technique of toasting spices I chose to demonstrate Dukkah Devilled Eggs
- For my final project I researched and presented on the topic of Dysmenorreah (menstrual cramps). One of the recipes I demonstrated was Magnesium Rich Chocolate Orange & Ginger Mousse, the other a simple fish curry with fenugreek which I may share in due course. I practiced all of these recipes multiple times at home (with a read aloud – I’m not going mad honest, commentary) which gave me ample opportunities to practice styling and photography for a super blog post.
The good news is that I kept one recipe back for today’s blog post. For international cuisine assignment I created something Italian – A gluten free focaccia, smothered with immune boosting oregano pesto. Italy has one of my favourite cuisines. Thanks to relatives that reside there it’s a country I’ve probably visited the most over the years. Contrary to popular belief there are so many ways to enjoy the authentic Italian flavours senza glutine (without gluten). This new recipe being one of them!
I chose white fleshed sweet potato for this dish, so that the bread would look more like traditional bread, although this does mean that there are less carotenes present then there would be had I chosen orange fleshed sweet potatoes. I had initially intended to make a gnocchi recipe with the sweet potato, egg and rice & tapioca flours – quite the experiment. Unfortunately I was having a difficult time turning the potato and flour into a workable gnocchi dough, so added extra flour (chestnut and coconut) and an extra egg instead to form a bread dough. To improve the focaccia recipe I could find a way of making it lighter – perhaps whisking egg whites, using baking powder for leavening, xanthan gum for binding, or changing the proportions and types of flours used.
Sadly this homework assignment was not photographed in the garden on a bright sunny day. It was evening and so dark by the time I’d finished experimenting in the kitchen that it was too dark to take a naturally lit photo in the garden. I soon discovered that the light of our downstairs toilet (washroom, bathroom, closet – whatever??), was the brightest so this is taken in there. One hand precariously balancing the wooden chopping board, the other my camera.
Without a doubt the best thing about this focaccia is the crunchy crust, followed closely by the fragrant garlicky oregano pesto.
- 2 medium sized golden sweet potato (approx. 600g / 1.35 lbs before peeling)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- tsp salt
- ¾ cup brown rice flour
- ½ cup tapioca flour
- 2 Tbs chestnut flour
- 2 Tbs coconut flour
- + 2-3 Tbs of Oregano Pesto (or other pesto of choice)
- Pre-heat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.
- Prick the potatoes with a fork, and bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until soft.
- When the potatoes are soft allow to cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Mash with a potato masher or back of a fork. Leave cool for 10 minutes.
- Turn the oven to 190°C/ 375°F.
- Make a well in the middle of the potatoes and pour in the whisked eggs and the salt. Work the eggs into the potato flesh. Combine all the 4 flours together in a separate bowl then gradually add into the potato bowl a bit at a time until you get satisfactory bread-like dough that you can handle without stickiness. You may not need all the flour, or may need a little more – it will depend on the exact size, wetness and starchiness of your potatoes.
- Place the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet and press into a large circle or square (8 inch diameter). Make imprints over the surface with the fleshy part of your thumb. Bake in the oven for 45 mins, till the top is golden brown and a crust has formed on the bottom.
- When the bread comes out of the oven brush the pesto over – approx. 2-3 Tbs. Slice and serve. This is dense starchy bread and a little goes a long way.
I hope this post has given you a flavour of what it was like to be a natural chef culinary student. I never quite realised it would allow me so much creativity, and so much homework – which I secretly enjoyed…
From September ’13 to March ’14 I travelled to the USA to train to be a Natural Chef at Bauman College in Berkeley nr San Francisco, in California. I’m currently recapping some of my American tales in a blog series which I’ve called ‘San Francisco Friday’