Notes from the School Kitchen, Lemons and Eggs

I have always believed that a poor workman blames his tools and therefore try (albeit with muttering reluctancy) to take some responsibility for my stumbles, both in the kitchen and out.

That was until I started at catering college.

Never again, Ikea knives.  Never again, sieves with holes in them, blunt graters and rusty pans.  The knives in particular are a revelation.  They cut through tendons and joints like butter, making filleting  flesh a cinch. I realise I sound ever so slightly Hannibalistic, but I think Japanese steel could awaken the inner butcher in anyone.

Also- who would have known there were so many uses for a slotted spoon?  Why on earth don’t I have one at home?  Why do I never warm my plates or use a warming oven?  I’ve been eating tepid food all my life, I’m sure.  What about using a cartouche?  I’m really only being mildly dramatic when I say that this little piece of circular baking paper, scrunched up, dampened and placed on top of frying veg, has changed my life forever.

The effects of my first five weeks of cooking under watchful, reassuring tutelage have perhaps not begun to seep into my technique quite yet- I still chop vegetables at roughly the same speed as the Hammersmith and City line.  And don’t even get me started on turning them.  However, the month has certainly made a kitchen materialist out of me.  Lakeland and Nisbets-  you’ll have seen me coming.

And while we’re on the subject of knife skills, a friend recently told me that she imagined catering college was a bit like that scene from Julie and Julia, where Meryl Streep is manically chopping onions.  Needless to say, the reality isn’t quite worthy of a movie-montage.  It’s much too slow, with ups and downs, highs and lows and more gradual sense of achievement.  And sometimes just flat out disappointment.  The majority of the time, though, I feel so flooded with information that I get to the end of the week and can’t even remember what I’ve cooked that same day (spaghetti vongole and sauce espagnole, for those who were wondering.  And yes, I made the pasta from scratch. Natch.)

In short, I hope all this goes some way to explain why Always So Hungry has had slightly less activity than usual- it’s not because I haven’t been doing any cooking.  Rather, because I’ve been doing too much cooking!

So until I’ve mastered  a bit more and taken stock (from making stock…sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ll leave you with a recipe for a culinary classic.  One that I made ages ago and simply haven’t had the time to post.  It seems particularly apt to feature meringues, given that I seem to get through about a billion eggs every week.  Enjoy. 

Lemon Meringue Pie
(from Leiths Cookery Bible)

You will need:

For the pastry (rich, sweet shortcrust):
170g plain flour
pinch of salt
100g butter
1 egg yolk
ice water

For the filling:
4 tbsp cornflour
225g caster sugar
290 ml water
4 egg yolks
grated zest and juice of 2 1/2 large unwaxed lemons

For the meringue topping:
3 tbsp water
2 tsp cornflour
4 egg whites
110g caster sugar + a little extra


1.  Sift the flour with the salt into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (you can also use a food processor at this stage if you have one).

2.  Mix the egg yolk with about 2 tbsp of water and sprinkle about half of this mixture over the flour.  You may need to add more, but be careful not to make the pastry too damp.

3.  Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife, then with one hand.  Add more of the yolk-water mixture if necessary.

4.  Wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. 

5. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.  Roll out the pastry and line a round 20 cm flan or tart tin.  Chill until firm in the fridge then blind bake in the oven- removing your baking beads/grains when the sides are almost golden and allowing the base to cook through. 

6. Turn the oven temperature down to 180 degrees.  Make the filling by combining the cornflour, sugar and water in a saucepan.  Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and translucent.

7. Whisk the egg yolks into the still hot mixture then pass through a sieve.  Add the lemon juice and zest.

8. Pour the hot filling into the warm pastry case and place in the centre of the oven for 5-10 minutes.

9. Make the meringue topping by whisking the water and cornflour in a small saucepan over a medium heat, again, until thick and translucent.  Remove from the heat.

10. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks before gradually adding the caster sugar, whisking all the while.  Whisk in the warm cornflour mixture.

11. Pile the meringue on top of the filling, starting at the edge next to the pastry, then moving towards the centre, to form a bit of a mound in the middle. Use a fork to create peaks, then sprinkle with a little extra sugar.

12. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the topping is light brown.

13. Allow to cool before serving or refrigerate if serving the next day.


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