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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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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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!

Baking and Pastry Week 8

The final result: my impatient Danish.

The final result: my impatient Danish. Worth every single minute of effort.

It’s Labor Day today, so I’m not going to labor too hard over this post. I actually started my draft on Friday, but over the long weekend, it’s been hard to do anything other than sit outside, nap, read my book or indulge in a nice glass of wine and dinner out with Terry.

In our second series of bread making, the focus was on laminated and sweet dough. Or as I like to call it, “I’m glad I learned this in class because I’ll never make it again.” As I’ve mentioned before, some nights, I am just low on patience and these breads all take a lot of time. I’m also not so adept with rolling out and shaping dough, so that’s been we’ll say, “fun” to have to deal with. However, for whatever frustrations I have while in the kitchen, it’s always 100% worth it when I get the first bite. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually made these things. I will forever have respect for professional bakers. Thank goodness there are people that choose to do this all the time.

Maple-pecan sweet rolls

Maple-pecan sweet rolls

Wednesday night started off with our sweet roll dough. Once we got that together, we went to work on the Danish pastry dough. This one is pretty high maintenance. It’s not so much mixing the dough that’s a big deal, it’s the rolling and folding that takes forever. With Danish pastry, you first roll it out into a rectangle and once the butter has warmed up enough (or, as it’s called in the industry having “plasticity”), you then slather two-thirds of the dough with it. You’ll go through an ungodly amount of butter, but it’s a necessary evil because that’s pretty much the only reason Danish taste so delicious.

Once the butter is “locked in” (which is the term for the first fold to encase the butter), you move on to your first “fold”. After the first fold, the process of turning begins. For each “turn”, you fold and roll the dough again. Then it’s back into the cooler to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes between turns. You do this 2-3 more times, and there goes your entire day.

More Danish!

More Danish!

Because our class is only 4 hours long, we only did one turn on Wednesday and completed the rest of the turns on Thursday. I admit to just wanting to get it over with and did not roll out my dough as thin as I should have, and that’s why I call my final result an impatient Danish. Had I done it all perfectly, I probably would have had better end results, but the taste was still pretty darn good.

As for the sweet rolls, they were filled with a maple-pecan spread and topped with a yummy cream cheese icing. Nothing exactly a photogenic dish, but tasted pretty darn alright to me.

Whatever you’re doing with your long weekend, hope you enjoyed it and ate something yummy!

Two more weeks of baking and pastry, then a short break and in early October, I start with stocks, sauces and soups!

Baking and Pastry week 7

bread27 weeks down, 3 more to go. This week was all about bread. We learned about the 10 – 12 (12 if you count cooling & storing) steps of bread making, which included things like benching and punching, and I’m not talking about things you do at the gym. Bread making takes an incredible amount of patience. Something that for me, can be on short supply after a long day at work, so I went into class last week reminding myself to be ready for a long night.

We started out with some basic breads, egg bread, milk bread and focaccia. On Wednesday night we did the first few steps – scaling ingredients, mixing the dough and setting it up for fermentation which we slowed down by letting it retard in the cooler overnight. On Thursday, we took to the final steps – folding, punching, shaping, benching, panning, proofing and finally baking.

All of the dough was quite easy to work with. And we used instant yeast, so that helped too. With the egg and milk dough, I spent quite a bit of time rolling and shaping the loaves and rolls. It felt like I would never get done. The focaccia was much less high-maintenance. You don’t have to work it as much; it’s a little more forgiving because you really want those air bubbles on the inside so you can skip the punching phase.

I was actually surprised at how many things we could do with the dough we made. I thought that we were just going to have a bunch of plain old bread rolls, but that definitely was not the case. I made cinnamon roll bread, and a few different styles of knots and topped them with sesame and poppy seeds.

My favorite by far was the focaccia. I made half jalapeño cheese and half tomato basil. Second runner up was the cinnamon bread. The egg and mild bread made great toast for breakfast this weekend. I don’t see myself replicating these recipes any time soon, but they were approachable enough for the home baker that’s looking to try some bread making.

Up next week: laminated breads, also known as Danish pastry and cinnamon rolls!

So much bread!

So much bread!