Duck and Pinot Masterclass – Luv-a-Duck, Port Melbourne

I am fairly skeptical when it comes to those websites that peddle daily deals that are usually too good to be true, so when a friend of mine mentioned that she had recently taken a cooking class through Living Social, I subscribed more out of curiosity rather than intent. A couple of weeks later, hands-on duck cooking classes were offered at an unbelievable price and when I realised that it was provided by Luv-a-Duck, I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the discounted offer to participate in the Duck and Pinot Masterclass.

The long awaited day finally arrived and I excitedly arrived early at the Luv-a-Duck retail showroom in Port Melbourne, and meandered around the refrigerated stands selling the extensive range of duck produce, and associated gourmet sauces and condiments. Class participants receive a 10 per cent discount for items purchased on the evening, so I mentally started to prepare a shopping list of things to buy after the class. The chef’s table had been laid out in anticipation and the kitchen stations were ready for action.

The night began in the small classroom area with Wendy, our instructor for the evening, giving a brief overview of the history of the Luv-a-Duck company and the format of the masterclass. We were also introduced to Steve from PinotNow who was supplying the matched pinot wines for the evening. As there were five courses to be prepared and served throughout the night, the class needed to divide into teams of two and proceed into the kitchen, where packages of whole duck and sharp knives were waiting for us.

Wendy demonstrated the process for preparing and cooking a perfect roast duck before moving on to show us how to dissect the duck into smaller portions and extract the duck breasts and marylands for some of the evening’s recipes. Then it was our turn to pick up the knives and get to work on breaking down the duck, which wasn’t always as easy and effortless as Wendy made it appear but fun nonetheless. I tried to imagine myself doing this at home and could only conjure an image of me sailing into my local Foodworks to pick up a couple of pre-packaged duck breasts!

The next task was to volunteer for a course to prepare so I partnered up with a couple of guys to make the Duck and Portobello Mushroom Pie. While Fazil started on preparing the marinade for the duck breasts, Jesper and I set about preparing the shortcrust pastry made with duck fat for the pies. The pastry was extremely easy to make and duck fat seemed to make the pastry soft and malleable. After rolling out the pastry we lined a dozen small ceramic dishes and strangely enough, while it was somewhat labour-intensive, I could readily imagine doing this at home or for a dinner party.

Once finishing the first preparation stage to our recipes, the first entrée course of Smoked Duck with Lentil and Pear Salad was ready to be served. Steve had matched this first course with a 2008 Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Glengarry, Tasmania. With a 92 point rating from James Halliday in the 2011 Australian Wine Companion, this wine was now showing signs of age in the colour and has probably reached its peak. It had a very elegant nose with subtle black cherry aromas and a short finish on the palate. The soft acidity and fine tannins were a good match with the smoked flavour in the dish. This course was exceptional and I started to secretly wish that I had prepared this course so that I could replicate it at home. The lentils were softly cooked in duck stock and the caramelised pears were a wonderful addition to the dish and balanced out the ripe fruit flavours in the wine.

Wendy got the teams back into the kitchen to keep preparing our courses. As the pastry cases were chilling out in the fridge, our little band of three started to prepare the filling for pies. It was fun working together and pretending to be sous chefs so that one person could cook the mixture on the stove while we scrambled about chopping the remaining ingredients and throwing everything into the pot. Somehow we just got our pies filled and into the oven before we were called back to the dining table for the next course.

It was another case of food envy as a plate of Sticky Marmalade Duck Breast with Duck Fat Roast Potatoes was set before me. This dish had been matched with 2011 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon USA. In the WSET 2 course I had studied about premium wines from Oregon but I hadn’t actually tasted one, until now that is. This wine had distinctive floral characteristics and I could smell and taste violets, lilac and cherries but also on the palate the spicy elements of this wine started to evolve. With a white pepper finish, the wine had traces of cinnamon, cloves or Chinese five spice which helped to bring out the Asian flavours in the duck. Beautifully cooked and prepared, the duck breast had been roasted and basted in citrus, ginger, soy and sesame seeds so the wine Steve had selected was quite a good match. This dish is definitely on my must-do list!

With the pies nicely warming in the oven, the last task for the course I was helping to prepare was cooking the Braised Baby Cos and Speck accompaniment. So easy to prepare and yet incredibly delicious, I had never thought to wilt baby cos quarters in a mixture of speck, rosemary, currants, verjuice and vino cotto in a frypan. This dish was matched with a 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Millot “Aux Faulques” Pinot Noir from Cote de Nuits, France. The wine was elegant in style and its taste resembled a fine, classic burgundy. Although I’m generally not a fan of mushrooms, the mini duck pies were superb and a good choice for a cold Autumn evening.

With my course of the way, I could relax as the next team served the Duck Leg Tagine with Chermoula and Jewelled Cous Cous. This dish had been paired with the 2011 Pisa Range Estate “Run 245” Pinot Noir and as soon as I caught the beautiful bouquet on this wine, I reached for the order form. This wine was award 4 stars or 93 points by Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine (September 2013) and is finely crafted with distinctive red berry characters and suitable for cellaring. The duck tagine was an array of rich colours and flavours and the spices in the Chermoula paste complemented the wine.

While we were all full and just about ready to head home after a long day, the first team had whipped up a delicious Hot Raspberry Souffle with Rose Petal Cream for dessert. Extremely light and sweet to taste, this was a perfect end to an incredibly fun evening. The only job left to do was to exit through the gift shop with my duck and Pinot purchases ready to take home. Apart from recreating my duck dishes at home, my new hobby is monitoring the daily internet deals for the next Luv-a-Duck special as it was $50 extremely well spent.

New Fresh Style Tapas Menu – Spice Bazaar, Seddon

I absolutely love cooking and happily refer to myself as a “one-handed cook”; the knife in my right hand and a glass of wine in the other. Lately I have been reminiscing about my Year 7 Home Economics class. In terms of cooking and learning new culinary skills, I was fearless. I remember making my own choux pastry, Chelsea buns from scratch, brioche and all kinds of dough concoctions, then coming home and wreaking havoc in Mum’s kitchen, trying hard to recreate all the things I had learned.

About four and half years ago, I signed up for a Tapas cooking class at Spice Bazaar, as a way to prepare myself for an upcoming trip to Spain. Since that first day, I’ve had a lot of fun cooking different cuisines and learning new techniques under Jill and Patrick’s expert tutelage, with the added bonus of making new friends as we all prepare the ingredients and recreate the recipes together. My friend Adrian posted some beautiful pictures on Facebook from the new Fresh Style Tapas class that he went along to on his birthday, and after I had recovered from the severe case of food envy, I enrolled as soon as I could.

The new menu that Jill has devised for the Fresh Style Tapas class includes Gazpacho shots, a lighter style Tortilla made with zucchini, Jerez style Garlic Prawns, crispy grilled chicken marinated with harissa, lime and garlic, Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce, Moorish lamb skewers, accompanied by sautéed garlic mushrooms and roasted pumpkin cubes with a honey dressing, followed by a delicious White Chocolate Mousse topped with passionfruit jelly to finish.

There were a total of eight participants in the Fresh Style Tapas class, so after we made our introductions, donned on our aprons, it was literally time to sharpen the knives and start preparing our dishes. Due to the length of time needed to ensure that our dessert would be ready in time, we got to work on melting the chocolate and preparing the ingredients for our mousse. Although I profess a deep love for chocolate mousse, I’ve never actually made one myself and Jill’s recipe is very easy and simple to make. After whipping together a yoghurt, cream and chocolate mixture and spooning it into small glass containers, we made a jelly using gelatine powder and passionfruit juice which once cooled, covered the mousse. Once that step was completed, the mousse went into the fridge to set.

Cooking in two teams of four, whilst I finished off the dessert, the other team members got to work on preparing for the other dishes to be eaten during our entrée course. Instead of a potato based tortilla, Jill has come up with a light and healthier alternative using zucchini, similar to a frittata. Together we chopped our way through the list of ingredients and as one person cooked on the stove, there was an opportunity to start preparing the harissa, lime and garlic marinade required for the chicken dish to be eaten during the main course.

More chopping, grating, zesting, measuring and spice throwing to create the marinade and allow the flavours to infuse through the chicken, then we repeated a similar process for the Moorish lamb skewers using a blend of Chermoula, Sweet Paprika and Smoked Paprika mixed together with oil, garlic, chilli, herbs and lemon juice to marinate the lamb. One of the things I love about cooking in the Spice Bazaar kitchen as opposed to cooking at home, is that all the ingredients, cooking implements and utensils are right in front of me, and then I get to put all the dirty dishes and knives into the sink where they get magically washed and put away by Cheryl, the kitchen assistant. It makes cooking a breeze and not at all like Year 7 Home Eco when you had to clean up after yourself while the teacher was yelling at you to hurry up!

With the tortilla warming in the oven, its time to create a classic Spanish gazpacho soup to be served as a shooter. After blanching the tomatoes, and preparing the other ingredients, we tested our trigger skills on the blender and prepared the soup with a little of oil drizzled in to create a silky, smooth texture. Once the mixture is strained over a bowl, the soup is served in small glasses and garnished with some finely chopped cucumber. Whilst the finishing touches are applied to both the tortilla and gazpacho, its almost time to plate up for entrée, as one of our teammates is slaving over the hot grill and cooking the Moorish lamb skewers to order.

Cooking is thirsty work and another thing I love about Spice Bazaar is the opportunity to take a breather and enjoy what you have just created over a nice glass of wine, expertly matched to the dishes on the menu. The gazpacho was lovely with a creamy texture with the cucumber giving a light, fresh finish on the palate. I enjoyed the lighter style tortilla which looked stunning when served in the colourful tapas crockery. The chermoula in the lamb skewers provided a touch of heat to our dishes but was lovely and rich to taste. With the plate of skewers in front of you, it’s hard to resist at one but you need to be mindful of the next wave of dishes to be made and enjoyed for the main course.

After half an hour or so of grazing, chatting and drinking, it’s time to get up, wash the hands again and start preparing the rest of the menu. While someone strong starts carving up the pumpkin into bite size cubes, there is the opportunity to start preparing the balsamic and honey dressing or start chopping the ingredients for the sautéed garlic mushrooms and start finely dicing more gloves of garlic for the Jerez style prawn dish.

One of the highlights of the menu, is the exotic sounding Spanish meatballs served with a traditional almond sauce. The meatballs are made with pork mince, chopped garlic, onion and parsley, seasoned and mixed with egg. While the meatballs were being formed, I rolled them in flour and started on creating the almond sauce, which involved gently frying almonds and bread in a frypan, adding wine and stock, before processing the mixture in the blender or food processor. A word of warning – make sure you do this in a glass vessel as the mixture is very hot and the quantity expands. Once puréed into a creamy, smooth and frothy mixture, the almond sauce is poured over the cooked meatballs and placed in the oven to finish.

Feeling a little bit like a short order cook, I got to work on grilling the marinated chicken fillets over high heat on the stove, while my other cooking companions cooked the prawns and started assembling the pumpkin and mushroom dishes. Many hands make light work and it all seems very easy when you have three or four extra pairs of hands helping prepare the ingredients for when they are required. Whenever I enjoy a cooking class or lesson, I find the best thing to do is practice the recipes at home within a week or two so that you don’t forget the sequence of ingredients and techniques that have been learnt, and that you actually have a go at the steps that someone else might have completed for you during the day.

Three and a half hours seem to disappear very quickly when you are having fun! With the chicken looking crispy and cooked to perfection, and all the main course dishes and garnishes prepared and resembling the same quality as Masterchef, its time to kick back, throw off the aprons and enjoy the rest of meal with another glass of wine.

Finished with lemon juice and chopped parsley, the flavours and texture of the pork meatballs cooked with the almond were astounding and its very easy to prepare when you know how. The prawns were fresh and lightly cooked with a Spanish sherry vinegar, cayenne pepper and garlic. The pumpkin dish was beautiful and the roasted flavours with dried rosemary and a thick, rich honey glaze is delicious on its own or can be enjoyed with the meat dishes. I’m not a fan of mushrooms at any hour of the day so I didn’t go near that dish!

My favourite dish of the day was the harissa, lime and garlic marinated chicken which again is easy to create. The chicken thigh meat was light and juicy and the harissa and lime flavours really work well together, especially when grilled on the barbecue. And just when I thought that I couldn’t possibly eat another thing, the pièce de résistance was served. Once your spoon cuts through the passionfruit jelly and you savour the slighty sweet white and fluffy chocolate mousse, it really is game over.

Another fantastic four hours spent learning new recipes, making new friends and over indulging in fabulous tasting food that I had helped to prepare, and so it was time to say good-bye to everyone, roll home and plan the next dinner party.

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