Fundamentals of cooking, Weeks 2 and 3

Pan seared duck breast
Pan seared duck breast

In week 2 we finally got to cooking something that we could take home. We practiced julienne cuts and were introduced to tomato concassé (con-ka-SAY). We also got into stock making and made a vegetable stock.

The leek was our victim for practicing the julienne cut. We used the cut leeks to make a gratin that was oh so simple and delicious! It will likely become a staple comfort food for me this winter.

With the tomato concassé, we made a Portuguese sauce. Concassé means peeled and seeded, so that’s exactly what this sauce is mostly comprised of – peeled, seeded tomatoes. It also has a bit of onion, garlic, basil and parsley. It is super light and really flavorful. Toss it over a bed of small pasta like ditalini, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good meal.

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Fundamentals of cooking, Week 1

tourneClass is back in session and this quarter, it’s all about the basics. The next 10 weeks will cover many of the fundamentals every chef needs to know in order to build their skill set. My first impression is that I’m really glad I got the baking and pastry class first – I had something delicious to take home on the very first night. By contrast, on the first night of this quarter, our time in the kitchen was only enough to chop 1 onion, 1 carrot (small dice, to be exact) and mince a full bulb of garlic. Not very sexy, but very necessary – getting these fundamental things down pat will lay the groundwork for more advanced techniques.

Our lecture periods so far have been a bit longer too. There is much to learn about the history of cooking and the kitchen, but I think we’ll start to see more kitchen time the further we get into the quarter.

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Seafood Fra Diavolo

diabolo2Tomato sauces are not something I usually go for. Something about them just doesn’t do it for me. I think it’s probably because I totally over did it on spaghetti in college. It was an easy, cheap thing to make so I made it all the time because I could also get a few meals out of one batch.

It’s a rare occasion that I want anything tomato sauce based, but I had a bunch of ingredients to use up this weekend and the best thing to pull together was this spicy tomato sauce. “Fra Diavolo” by the way, means “Brother Devil” – an appropriate name for this given the level of spice in this sauce.

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Warm sweet potato salad

sweet-potato-salad4It’s the time of year that beckons comfort food; hearty pastas, squash of all types, casseroles and creamy soups. With that comes a load of calories as well – and if you’re like me, you’re not at all active in the winter, so chowing on all that yummy food tends to add up and leave you feeling a bit sluggish come spring.

Pace yourself through the season with this salad – it has the best of both worlds. The sweet potato is the star giving substance and when paired with the crunch of pistachios two ways, the tang of goat cheese and the snap of pomegranate, this is a salad that eats like a meal without making you feel like you over indulged.

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Crispy spaghetti squash crepes with mushrooms and sage

The season has officially turned, but this weekend I’ve been enjoying the last few moments of summer-like weather. At this time of year, one never knows how many more chances there will be to have the windows open all day or sit outside and enjoy the sunshine.

The fair temperatures have not fooled my palate, however. My brain and taste buds know that it’s nearly October, and therefore I find myself craving hearty, rustic meals. Various types of squash are in abundance right now, so I took advantage of the fall’s bounty and pulled up this recipe I’ve had bookmarked for quite some time.

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Mushroom risotto with tarragon cream sauce

mushroom-tarragon-risottoAs previously mentioned and evidenced by the number of recent risotto postings, I am a bit obsessed with risotto. Even though I made it just last weekend, I tried a new recipe last night. With the dramatic dip in temperatures, I was craving some comfort food and this fit the bill perfectly.

I borrowed the recipe for cream sauce from Real Simple, adapting it to not use the onions, but this sauce is AMAZING and light and would go well over many types of vegetables or fish.

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Easy, homemade croutons

When faced with leftover bread that’s gone stale and no longer good enough to eat on its own, one must not worry! The easiest thing you can do is turn it into croutons which no doubt will be better than anything you can buy at the store.

You can customize your own flavor and season as much or as little as you like to get the exact flavor you want. If you have 20 minutes, you can make these in time to serve with your dinner salad. Easy peasy, done and done. Use to garnish your salad or soup of choice!

Ingredients

  • Bread (leftover baguettes work fantastic)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • Seasoning of choice (herbs de provence, garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc.)
  • Salt

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Slice the bread into ½ inch cubes
  • Toss in a bowl with the olive oil until the bread is well coated
  • Sprinkle in your seasoning and a few pinches of salt, continue to mix until the bread is well coated
  • Spread the croutons on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, ensuring to mix and turn at least twice so the croutons get an even color on all sides.

croutons

Caramelized onion and apple risotto

onion-apple-risottoI have a confession to make: I am a bit obsessed with risotto. I love everything about it – the process of making it, all the ingredients that go into it and not least of all, eating it. I love it because it’s versatile and is a dish you can eat year-round, customizing to ingredients and flavors that are in season. It can be made to appeal to any diet preference as well – it works wonderfully with light seafood such as scallops or shrimp and is a great vehicle to highlight seasonal vegetables.

Forever on the hunt for the next awesome flavor profile, I decided that caramelized onions and apples sounded like a good idea to try. I know what you’re thinking – there’s already plenty of onion in the base of risotto, won’t this be overkill? I was worried about that too, but I did it anyway and was glad I took the risk. Caramelizing the onions gives them a different flavor, so this wasn’t overkill with onion. You’re also only going to use a half cup of the onions, so you’ll have some leftover. (Looking for what to do with them? Try this crostini recipe.)

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Baking and Pastry week 10

The first quarter of this culinary journey is complete! The last two weeks of class garnered some of the easier, every day breads and treats. In week nine, we made challah bread, fougasse and baguettes. We also snuck in an ice cream treat because the ice cream kitchen was finally available. I’m still enjoying my pistachio white chocolate ice cream – I actually can’t believe I still have some left.

The last 2 classes focused on how to use leftover ingredients – namely, an extra challah loaf and baguette we left behind from the week before. We turned them in to an amazing chocolate bread pudding and croutons, respectively. We also squeezed out some toffee, brittle and pretzels, which just like all the breads before it, was laborious, but worth the effort.

On the very last night of class, I had my very first total recipe failure. We were making truffles and I over-poured the cherry liquor and my ganache never set up enough to roll into truffles. Lesson learned, when the chef says not to use more than 1.5 ounces of liquor and you accidentally pour 1.8, don’t shrug it off and say “it will be ok”. I actually intended to take a sip to try the liquor on its own, but totally forgot as I started throwing things together. Alas, no truffles for me. But, like any good chef, I can improvise – the cherry-chocolate sauce will be great over my pistachio ice cream!

I was much more successful with my toffee and spicy pecan brittle. Both were a hit at the office, I personally like the brittle the best.

The past ten weeks have been a blast – I’ve had fun and I learned a TON. I’ve been able to work in a professional kitchen where there are awesome tools like blast chillers, Hobarts that are so big they need to be wheeled out on a cart and had access to a pantry full of goodies to please any palate.

Out of everything I’ve made, a few items stand out as my favorite: tiramisu, French macarons, panna cotta, quiche, and pastry cream which has a million different uses.

I have a break for the next three weeks, and when class starts up again, I’ll be going back to basics – knife skills, stocks, sauces and soups. I’ve heard that breaking down a whole fish and boning Cornish hens are on the syllabus – eep!

week10collage

Goat cheese and caramelized onion crostini

caramelized-onion-crostiniWeek nine of baking and pastry yielded lots more bread – 3 baguettes, 2 challah loaves and a pint of ice cream to be exact! I selfishly took everything home and now I have more bread than I know what to do with…until I thought of crostini.

I whipped this up for an afternoon snack. If you’ve never caramelized onions before, the trick is to be patient and make sure you have at least 45 minutes to let them simmer. You can’t rush the process, otherwise you won’t get that perfect, yummy caramelization. Bon Appetit has some great tips here.

Ingredients

  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced (I used Vidalia)
  • 1 baguette
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 5 tbsps butter
  • ½ c olive oil, plus more to drizzle on the bread
  • 1/4 white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegar

Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12” skillet over medium heat until the butter is just melted. Add the onions and stir to coat with the oil and butter. Keep the onions on the heat for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally until well caramelized.

Once the onions are well caramelized, deglaze the pan with the wine to reincorporate the fond that has formed on the bottom of the pan.

While the onions are cooking, slice and prepare the bread. Turn on the broiler to low when there are about 5-6 minutes left for the onions to cook.

Coat the top of the bread with olive oil, then spread a good amount of goat cheese on the bread and top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Place in the broiler and broil for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is heated through. Top the crostini with the onions and serve.

 

Caramelizing the onions
Caramelizing the onions

 

Prepping the bread
Prepping the bread

 

All done!
All done!