Honey-lime sweet potato, black bean and corn tacos

sweet-potato-tacoAfter many weeks of heavy, butter-induced French style cooking, it’s time to start eating a little lighter and healthier. I’m trying to squeeze in as much fruit and vegetables and salads as possible over the next couple weeks until school starts up again. Probably not great timing being the holiday season and there are so many yummy treats that are definitely not healthy, but any little bit helps, I guess.

If you feel like adding a little protein, shrimp would be great in these. I’d dust them lightly with the same mixture of spices on the sweet potato and saute them off in a skillet.

I used pico de gallo as a topping, but you could use a variety of any type of topping – cotija cheese, cilantro, salsa, hot sauce, anything.

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Fundamentals of cooking, the final two weeks

These last two weeks of class covered a wide range of topics from hollandaise, to duck a l’orange to French onion soup. I liked the hollandaise the least, and would say the duck was my favorite. I think I’ve only had duck a l’orange once in my life before, but what I made in class was sooooooooo good. I would actually consider making this again just for myself someday.

On hollandaise night, the chef broke my sauce on purpose, just so we could show the class how to save it. If you find yourself in this situation, toss another egg yolk over the heat (using a ban marie or a stainless steel bowl over a boiling pot of water) and then slowly mix the broken sauce into the fresh yolk. That should take care of it.

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Fundamentals of cooking, week 8

Tomato sauce is not the same as marinara. Say it with me – tomato sauce is not the same as marinara. If there is one thing that was made clear to me this week, it was this very point. On Tuesday night we made tomato sauce, as in one of the five mother sauces – not marinara. You can make marinara from tomato sauce, but it is NOT marinara sauce. Everyone clear on that point now? Good, let’s move on.

The other thing I learned about tomato sauce is that it’s really freaking good. It’s laden with animal product (salt pork, bones, chicken stock), but it is really flavorful. As much as I love to modify recipes, I’m not sure how I could possibly modify this into a vegetarian friendly version and keep the same depth of flavor. The deeper into this program I go, the more exposure I’m getting to a whole new flavor profile that I’ve been missing out on as a vegetarian. (Not to say that vegetarian food isn’t delicious or elegant or lacking in depth or complexity, it totally has all of that.)

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Gnocchi fail with roasted garlic béchamel and tomato sauce

Exhibit A - gnocchi mush.
Exhibit A – gnocchi mush.

Typically, our weekend is planned around “what’s for dinner”, and this weekend was no exception, even with the holiday mixed in. Inspired by my latest issue of Bon Appetit and the amazing tomato sauce I had left over from class, I figured why not make gnocchi!

Well, the culinary gods had other ideas. The sauce was not the issue, it was the gnocchi that foiled the plans. It started out easy enough, but I think I may have over cooked it because it turned in to a big mush ball. See exhibit A.

Time for plan B. This dish was always about the sauces to begin with, so all I had to do was get another pot of water going and boil whatever pasta I had in the house, which turned out to be about a cup of cavatapi and some lasagna. That’s not much but it would work.

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Spice-crusted carrots with harissa yogurt

spice-crusted-carrotsI am about 4 dishes behind on the blog! I’ve been cooking as much as usual, but haven’t had as much time to follow up with a post. Of the dishes I’ve recently made, this one is a stand out and looks really beautiful on the plate.

I recommend doing a trial run if you plan to serve it for a party. It is a little labor intensive, but you can do some of the work ahead of time. Unless you have a huge skillet, you’ll want to take the time to find similar-sized carrots so they all fit and can cook in the same amount of time. Keeping the greens on is also key for presentation.

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Fundamentals of cooking, week 7

Shrimp with buerre blanc
Shrimp with buerre blanc

Things are getting saucy! That’s the best description for the last couple classes. We’re learning how to make the mother sauces, which are the backbone of many traditional and contemporary dishes. The mother sauces were defined by Auguste Escoffier in the early 20th century and remain staples of every kitchen (and culinary education) today.

In order to get to the sauce, you have to start with the roux. Roux is a combination that’s equal parts butter and flour, whisked together in a saucepan over mild heat to one of three consistencies and then added to the base of your sauce as a thickener. There’s white roux, which is the thickest, blonde roux that’s slightly thinner and brown roux, the thinnest of the three. Depending on the type of sauce you’re making, you will use a different roux. White or blond roux would be used for lighter sauces and brown roux would be used for the darker or brown sauces.

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Fundamentals of cooking, Week 5

Look at that brunoise!
Look at that brunoise!

Week 5 officially marked the mid-way point for the quarter. I’ve barely noticed the time going by, this has been so much fun!

This week we continued working with seafood and made one of my all-time favorite dishes, shrimp scampi. We also started to dig into working with butter, which is why scampi was the best choice possible. We clarified butter and made two types of compound butter. I never understood what the point of clarifying butter was, but you do it to remove the milk solids so you’re left with pure butter. It makes a difference in the end result of the final dish. You can pretty much use clarified butter in any instance you would use regular butter. (Except for baking, I am unsure if that’s an ok substitute.)

We also had an unofficial knife skills test. I use the term “unofficial” because it was a test for which we were evaluated, but this program is not a degree program, so grades don’t count. And boy am I lucky they don’t. The test consisted of trussing then breaking down a chicken into eight pieces, bone on the breast, and various cuts of different vegetables. I was a little intimidated about the chicken because I missed the demonstration class, so, never in my life had I broken down a whole chicken. I figured it couldn’t be that hard, just go for the joints. Turned out I was pretty darn close and did pretty good with my first few cuts.

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Gruyere and white cheddar macaroni and cheese

mac-n-cheese2Fall officially made its presence known this weekend. From a sleety, windy, freezing Halloween to being forced to pull out my winter jacket, everything screamed “hibernate”. I was up for the challenge – it’s been a while since the weather forced me inside for an entire weekend, so I decided I’d make this a practice run for the imminent, months-long winter isolation.

The first thing one must do when faced with such a challenge is to watch egregious amounts of TV, read and sleep. This doesn’t leave much time for an elaborate dinner, but that is fine because the only thing suitable to prepare in such a scenario is bubbly, warm, comfort foody macaroni and cheese.

If you have an hour, you can get this pulled together and get right back to binge watching/reading/sleeping in no time.

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Fundamentals of cooking, week 4

Striped bass and flounder. AKA. Bill and Phil.
Striped bass and flounder. AKA. Bill and Phil.

Here fishy fishy! That was the theme for this week’s task – fish Monday, fish Tuesday, fish everywhere. Monday’s class started with the demo on how to filet striped bass and flounder. These fish were chosen specifically because one is a round fish (bass) and one is a flat fish (flounder)*. I’ve never once touched a fish, living or dead so I was a bit hesitant to dig in there and grab one of these guys. But just like last week with the game hen, I sucked it up and went to work.

The technique is actually pretty simple – given that you have a sharp filet knife and know exactly what to look for. One cut at the tail, a cut just behind the head, and one smooth slice down each side to detach the filet. Not so easy the first time around, but we did the same thing on Tuesday and having done it two nights in a row helped – Tuesday was much easier. Not to say that I did a beautiful job, but it was easier.

What I’m loving about this class is that each week builds upon everything we’ve learned. We’re going through mirepoix like it’s going out of style and with each batch, my cuts are getting more and more precise. I executed my first totally perfect small dice on a carrot this week, and that felt awesome.

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Herbed cheese ravioli with butternut squash truffle sauce

ravioli-butternut-squash-sauceIf you’re looking for a project, I’ve got a good one for you here. Had it not been for the awful showing of the Bears at New England today, I might still be in the kitchen putting this together. I got irritated and shut the game off at half time and went to work on dinner. It was too nice out to be sitting around watching TV anyway.

Squash rule the autumn dinner plate and rather than make a soup or stuff it with something, I wanted to make this sauce.

When done all at once, this will probably take you about 3-4 hours. Ravioli is a pretty labor intensive pasta to make, and I always question myself why I continue to make it. Oh, yeah, that’s right – it’s totally awesome. The good news with this is that you can spread out the tasks and even do some the day before. Especially the pasta. That’s probably the most labor intensive part of this dish – rolling out the dough, filling it, cutting it just right. You can’t rush that part, it just takes what it takes to get it done. If you make the pasta the night before, cover and store it in the refrigerator. You could also just use store-bought pasta and use this sauce to fancy it up.

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