I’ve always loved cooking, and when I was a child I participated in Junior Masterchef. Those were the days of Loyd Grossman and only three or four meals to cook! Masterchef has changed dramatically over the years, and any keen viewer can tell that it is now more gruelling than ever – you can no longer get away with only being good at a couple of recipes!
However, I am now 30 and I never did follow my childhood dream of running my own restaurant. Instead, I went into education, learning to teach through a charity called Teach First. I then joined the organisation, and before I knew it, I’d been involved with Teach First for six and a half years. I really enjoy what I do, and believe that the charity and what I do, is making a difference to children and their educational experience, however, my childhood dream has never gone away.
Last year I started to think that maybe it was time for me to take the plunge and to start making my childhood dream come true – after all, what was I waiting for? And what really did I have to loose? Well, actually, quite a lot! I may be 30, single with no dependents and therefore no real responsibilities, however we are in an economic downturn, I have a great job which I enjoy, I live in London with a mortgage and no savings, and I have not worked in the food industry since I was at university. All I know is that I enjoy cooking, and my friends and family seem to believe that I am a good cook.
So I decided that I should listen to the advice of my friends, and apply for Masterchef as a catalyst to following my dreams. But, more importantly, find out from professionals if I really can cook.
Several applications later I get the phone call I dream of and the journey begins.
Although my first immediate ‘journey’ at the time of the call was to get myself home! I found myself in cycling gear, half way up a hill, in the middle of England, with my friend glaring at me thinking I had taken a work phone call, during my holiday attempt to cycle from Lands End to John O Groats – I never quite made the whole distance, partly because I got sore knees, but mainly because I just wanted to get into the kitchen and figure out what to cook!
When I was on Junior Masterchef in 1996, I cooked Prawn Bolognaise with Tagliatelle, followed by Cranachan Ice-Cream, Raspberry Coulis and Shortbread Biscuits. I didn’t win my heat, but the chef judging at the time, David Everitt-Matthias of Le Champignon Sauvage, really enjoyed my dessert and invited me for some work experience in his restaurant – that was prize enough for a 14 year old! Ever since then I have always been inspired by his cooking. David has two cookbooks, which I would highly recommend: Dessert, and Essence. He cooks with earthly flavours, which I find simple and delicious. So much so that two of my first dishes were very much from him: Lamb with Eucalyptus Sauce and Pea Puree; and Scallops with Cauliflower Purée and Spiced Caramel.
It turns out that my friends and family were not lying when they said that I was a good cook. I managed to make it from about 20,000 applications, through to the top 12! And the quote of the episode, for me, was: “the girl can cook” – Thanks John Torode and Gregg Wallace! Maybe my dreams are not such a bad idea after all??!
As for my apparent sweet tooth: Lemon Curd Tart, it’s generally always a winner!
For the sweet pastry:
120g unsalted butter
75g icing sugar
3 egg yolks
250g plain flour
In a large bowl, cream together the soft butter and icing sugar; then beat in 2 of the egg yolks. Add the flour and with your fingertips, rub the butter mixture and flour together to achieve a crumbly texture.
TIP: make sure your hands are nice and cold, and do this as little as possible.
Add the water, and press the mixture together very quickly and lightly to form a ball. Flatten the pastry slightly with the palm of your hand, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll the pastry, and place into a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Cut off the excess pastry by rolling the pin over the top edge of the tin. Take a small ball of pastry and gently press it all around the base of the tart to ensure a snug fit. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork, and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
TIP: refrigerating the pastry really helps it to not shrink too much once in the oven, and just makes for better pastry!
Line the pastry case with aluminiuim foil and fill with dried beans. Bake the pastry for 15 minutes in a pre-heated oven of 160C. Remove the foil and beans. Return the tart case into the oven and bake for a further 15 minutes, until golden brown (but not too brown!). Brush the inside of the pastry with the remaining egg yolk and retun to the oven for 1 minute until set (this helps seal the pastry and makes it crunchier).
For the Lemon Filling:
3 large lemons
6 oz Caster Sugar
3 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
6 oz butter
Put all the ingredients except the butter in a large saucepan over a very low heat, and whisk until the eggs have broken up and the sugar has dissolved. Add half the butter and continue to whisk. At this point the misture will coat the back of a spoon. Add the remaining butter and continue stirring until the mixture becomes very thick.
TIP: you must stir all the time, otherwise it will curdle – eek!
TIP: If your custard is not thickening, continue to whisk, while adding some butter a little piece at a time.
Remove from the heat, place on a cold surface and continue to whisk until lukewarm.
Raise the oven temperature to 220C. Spoon the filling into the pastry case, and bake until the top is brown. This should take about 8 minutes. Leave it to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving, to allow it to set a little more.
Serve it, by itself, with a little cream, or with a raspberry coulis (put some raspberries and sugar in a food mixture. Once mixed, pass through a sieve, and serve).
Happy Cooking 🙂