Puerto Rico, Island Food! at Dave’s Fresh Pasta

Dinner is Served!

I got Elizabeth a class at Dave’s Fresh Pasta for her birthday. I chose a new class being offered, Puerto Rico, Island Food, because we went to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon and I wanted to have an evening focused reliving our food memories and the amazing time we had. On the menu for the evening were mofongo, pasteles, arroz con gandules. In the kitchen teaching was Chef Jason. He apparently teaches all the classes; as we learned, he went to a Boston high school that was predominantly Puerto Rican and this class was focused on food he group up eating at friends’ houses during his childhood.

We were greeted with some amazing wine and cheeses that he select from the store and the class started off with an interesting discussion on the ingredients and what we would be cooking. After that, with some quick demos on the cooking process, Jason put the class to work, getting the ingredients ready and cooked. There was definitely some experimentation going on and some of our classmates with Latin backgrounds did some riffing providing interpretations for food that they had grown up with. That combined with the impromptu Latin music in the background provided with an “authentic” cooking experience, lively laughter and delicious food. Here are some pictures I took from class.

Wine And Cheese Prepping Casaba Annatto Seeds Chicken Grating Root Vegetables

Grated Root Vegetables Grated Root Vegetables Grated Root Vegetables Chicken Tamales Tamales

Pork Tostones Sofrito Sofrito Sofrito Boiling Tamales

Tostones Sofrito Sofrito Dinner is cooking Shrimp Cream Sauce Sauce Mofongo Tostones Mashing Mofongo Unwrapping the tamale Tamale

 

 

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Ten Skills Every Cook Should Know Class at Sur la Table

Keeping up with the learning theme, I signed up for a cooking class, 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know at Sur La Table in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen on 57th Street. The class seemed basic enough to give me a sense of what a class at Sur La Table was like without being too technical. I had seen classes advertised on their site and noticed kitchens in a few of their stores and was excited to give them a try.

After singing up, I wasn’t sure how hands on the class would be, how skilled the instructor would be or what I would be learning with respect to the “10 skills”. I assumed that they would be basic things like knife skills, sauté, braising and a few other cooking techniques. To my surprise and delight, the class was more well-rounded and was very hands on. The goal of the class was to complete a meal with team members using the following skills.

  • Vinaigrette
  • Pan Roasting
  • Pan Sauce
  • Blanching
  • Sauté
  • Pesto
  • Whipping Egg Whites
  • Roux
  • Soufflé
  • Coulis

These skills were used to create a truly tasty meal of:

  • Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Pan Roasted Chicken with Sage White Wine Pan Sauce
  • Sautéed Asparagus with Basil Pesto
  • Chocolate Soufflé with Raspberry Sauce

I would say that most people in the class were of average skill, loved food and were very familiar with the school. The time flew by as were guided by the chef instructor Jessica and her kitchen assistants. We used induction stovetops in addition to the main stove which was very cool as I had never used them before. They were so easy to use and are even easier to clean.

All in all, the class was a great experience and the meal was delicious. I would definitely attend another cooking class again. It was very different from a commercial kitchen setting and felt a bit more like a home kitchen.

Here are some pictures I took throughout the class to document the progression and composition of the meal.

Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Classroom Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Mise En Place Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Mise En Place Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Making Pesto Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Making Pesto Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Asparagus Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Grilled Asparagus Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Melting Chocolate Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Melted Chocolate Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Whipping Egg Whites Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Whipped Egg Whites Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Prepping Chicken Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Cooking Chicken Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Shallots for Pan Sauce IMG_6024 Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Making Pan Sauce Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Salads Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Meal Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Plated Meal Sur La Table NYC Cooking Class - 10 Skills Every Cook Should Know - Chocolate Soufflé

 

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Cupcake Class at Butter Lane, NYC

I find myself in New York City during the week for work. A change in Location offers new opportunities, experiences and places to take classes! After hearing co-workers rave, I decided to sign up for classes at Butter Lane Bakery in the East Village this week. I’m not a cupcake person, never jumped onto the craze and rarely walk to the East Village. That aside, I figured, “what the hell?”, and signed up for the Become a Baker class.

Butter Lane Entrance

Butter Lane Display

The class lasted two hours, and consisted of six students. I almost can’t remember when the last time was that I baked something, and with my tiny apartment kitchen (more on that in future posts), cooking has been a challenge in the city. The class was definitely fun, the perfect size and focused enough to show anyone the proper techniques to achieve success. Our instructor Gabby was knowledgeable and yet patient, ensuring everyone followed along at pace with all of us yielding great results. I was really surprised by how small the work area was compared to classes I’ve taken in the past.

Butter Lane Class Setup

Working in pairs, we created three different batters and accompanying frosting.

Butter Lane Cupcake Recipes

The class flew by. With so few ingredients, the results were definitely better than I expected, then again, the recipes weren’t of the health food kind, with plenty of butter and sugar added to the batters and more sugar with cream cheese for the frosting.

Butter Lane Scooped Batter

Butter Lane Baked Banana Cupcakes

Butter Lane Baked Cupcakes Three Recipes

Butter Lane Baker's Dozen Cupcake

Butter Lane Frosted Cupcakes

Needless to say, I couldn’t eat these all by myself. They were a hit in the office. I’m glad I claimed mine before I set them out in the kitchen. They were gone in a matter of moments.

Butter Lane Boxed Cupcakes From Class

 

 

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Morning Pastry Class, Day 2

I left the first day of Morning Pastry Class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts really excited to return. Despite the class starting at 6:00 and being scheduled for around 3 or 4 hours, I didn’t leave until around 11pm. Adding to that, I had to drive out to my parents’ house to sleep for three hours before getting up to drive some family that was visiting to the airport and then go from there to my apartment and then back out to an early morning investor meeting for my company. Needless to say I was exhausted after the whirlwind of activity, but it was worth it. There was so much to learn and do in the class and it was a lot of fun. If there was one thing that I observed above all else, it was that people just don’t follow directions. It was very funny to have to see Chef Gomes save us from our selves. I wondered how our end products would turn out.

Rolling out croissant dough

It was amazing to see how Chef Gomes worked with and transformed the dough.

Le Croissant

These guys get real big once they have proofed!

Laying out the croissants

The ends of the croissants were brought together on the sheet pan.

Filling chocolate croissants

My classmates and I may have eaten some of the chocolate bars out of the box instead of putting them into the croissant dough. I’m expecting the bill any day now.

Filling bear claws with jam

The bear claws are harder to get right than they look.

Oh the shapes we made

We made stars with the dough and filled them with pastry cream and apricots.

Proofed Croissants

The croissants got much bigger when they proofed!

Scoring chocolate croissants

Using a razor blade, the chocolate croissants were scored for added texture.

Croissants baking in the oven

The smell of butter and waiting for these suckers to bake was torture.

Fresh baked croissants

If waiting for the croissants to bake wasn’t bad enough, we had to wait for them to cool down. Some over eager students were willing to burn their mouths to sample the goods. I may have been one of them.

The bounty

Things were just getting started with the first batch.

Croissants with pastry cream

The picture says it all. These did not last.

Croissants with a sprinkling of sugar

Whoever was on dusting duty was quite generous with the powdered sugar.

Palmiers (Elephant Ears)

If pounds of butter were not enough to cause serious health problems and weight gain, these elephant ears were like putting the final nail in the coffin. These were pretty much all butter and sugar.

Cinnamon Buns

Sadly I may never order cinnamon buns from a bakery again knowing that they will never be as good as these were.

Brioche

If I had to guess, the brioche was the most healthy item on the menu.

The pictures tell the story better than I ever could. I left the class with two boxes filled with the most delicious pastry items I have ever had the fortune of eating. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week, I was happy.

I can see this class being an annual tradition.

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Morning Pastry Class, Day 1

In October I was fortunate to take a two day morning pastry class with Master Pastry Chef / Pastry Program Director Delphin Gomes at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Without a doubt this was one of the best classes I have ever taken. Even though I took the class last fall, I took many pictures of the amazing pastry we made. I can almost taste the butter now as I write. The best part of the class was the fact that there were not written recipes. The focus of the class was on the method, and not the recipe. We were given clear instructions and sage advice at the beginning of the class which included basic ratios of ingredients and the instructions for combining them, where if done properly and as was the case almost properly, would result in pastry never experienced by the students this side of the Atlantic. The pictures in this post and the pictures and videos in the posts to follow speak for themselves.

Making Pastry Cream

You’ve never had better pastry cream.

Proofing Croissant Dough

The Chef and his assistant had created some dough prior to the start of our class so we could start working right away.

Smashing a pound of butter!

After a long day at work, there’s nothing better than being able to smack a block of butter with a rolling pin to get your frustrations out. The noise level of the class was insane. I’m guessing this activity would not be welcomed by my neighbors and would result in immediate forfeiture of at least half of my croissants.

Rolling out the croissant dough

Any frustrations assuaged by the flattening of the butter quickly returned when the croissant dough had to be rolled out into a straight and event rectangle. The Chef had to intervene…often.

The first day was primarily one of setup. We had to wait a whole week to return for the second and final day where we could make our croissants, puff pastry and brioche.

Culinary Wisdom: According to Chef Gomes, a good croissant takes two days to make. If yours didn’t take two days to make, you aren’t eating a good croissant. Joking aside, the reason for this is directly related to the proofing times required and the flavor production resulting from them. Throughout the proofing, the dough had to be folded (turned) several times to create the layers of butter and air required for an amazing croissant.

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Cooking Couples Cook French – Cooking with Mom

MomMe

Last Christmas I bought my mother a gift certificate for a couples cooking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Material gifts don’t carry the same weight that they used to, but experiential gifts, memories, those are priceless. After some thought and consideration, the natural choice was a French cooking class because of her love of French food.

Life seems to get in the way of things like this. We planned ahead and enrolled in a class for the spring, although unfortunately the instructor fell ill and was unable to make our class. Due to some scheduling mis-communication and changes we missed a class during the summer and finally were able to take the class tonight. Needless to say, the anticipation had been growing over time.

My mother had been sick a bit over a month ago and as a result has mysteriously lost her sense of taste and smell for most things. Obviously this is a terrible thing especially for someone who loves food and cooking so much. Of course it was also a terrible thing which would affect her enjoyment of this evening’s class.

I drove out to my parents’ house to pick mom up. We drove in together and easily found parking. The rain let up just as we were walking toward the school which was nice as cooking in soaked clothes doesn’t spell F.U.N. We arrived on time, signed in, made name tags and took a seat. We happened to be in the same kitchen as the first Back to Basics class I took in the spring. Our chef instructor was named Elise, and I recognized her face from the previous times at the school as well as the web site.

With everyone signed in we briefly went over the recipes for tonight’s meal. There were quite a few options to choose from, but enough for each “couple” to work on one. Our first choice was to work on the Roti de Porc Aux Pruneaux (Roast Pork with Prunes), but someone else’s hand was raise before ours to snatch that one up. We settled on the dessert, Chocolate and Prune Marquis with Armagnac and Crème Anglaise, our second choice. Elise went over kitchen safety, emphasized the goal of having fun while feeling free to experiment and cook to personal preference and taste and we all set out to begin our preparations.

Mom and I started with finely chopping the prunes and apricots. With a glance over she was impressed with my knife skills. Score! We also weighed out the chocolate and chopped that up.

Chopped Prunes, Apricots and Chocolate
Chopped Prunes, Apricots and Chocolate

Mom created melted the chocolate and butter over a double boiler and once read we mixed in the apricots and prunes and set that to cool in the walk-in refrigerator. While our chocolate ganache was cooling we whipped up some heavy creme in the stand mixer to mix and fold into the chocolate before placing it in the loaf pan for further cooling.

As our chocolate cooled in the walk-in we worked on the crème anglaise. I had never made this before, and was eager to try my hand at it. Being the basis for desserts like crème brûlée and ice cream, this was a valuable lesson to learn. It was fascinating to whisk the sugar with egg yolks together and watch them transform from a solid mass into a light, fluffy almost creamy mixture. Neither of us had worked with a whole vanilla bean before, only extracts so this was also a fun opportunity to work with an ingredient in its raw form.  We scalded the milk with the bean in it and then set it aside to steep for 10 minutes so that the milk could absorb more of the vanilla flavor.  Once ready, I poured the milk into the egg yolk and sugar mixture as my mom whisked it all together. We left the vanilla bean in for more flavor as we returned the pot to the stove. Elise helped us by using a thermometer to ensure that the crème did not exceed 180 degrees F so that the eggs would not curdle.

Once ready we set our crème to cool and thicken in an ice bath. It was dinner time. As it turned out, all the cooking had completed around the same time. The food was plated and set on a table for serving buffet style.

Dinner is Served
Dinner is Served

The dinner itself was really good, and with the cooking behind us, the our table started to open up, engage in conversation and share experiences. With dinner over it was “show time”. We were not the only ones who had made the dessert. Another couple at our table had also made the same thing.

Chocolate and Prune Marquis
Chocolate and Prune Marquis

We each portioned out 6 slices onto small plates. To our dismay, the crème anglaise that my mother and I had made had not thickened. We tried to figure out why and after careful review of the recipe learned that I had not added the half-and-half to the milk. It was listed as an ingredient, but a typo in the recipe which did not call out its use lead to me leaving it out. This mistake could have been avoided with proper mise en place as the cream would have been staring me right in the face asking to be used and resulting in a question for Elise about when it should be added.

We we able to use the crème anglaise that the other couple had made and served out the desserts. They all received rave reviews and thumbs up. Conversation was kept to a minimum for maximum focus and enjoyment. This was truly a rich and decadent dessert.

Chocolate and Prune Marquis with Armagnac and Crème Anglaise
Chocolate and Prune Marquis with Armagnac and Crème Anglaise

Tonight was a reminder that not everything can be perfect, but even with imperfection enjoyment can be had. I wish mom had been able to taste and enjoy the food more, but to me that was secondary to the time spent together and the fun we had. We’ll both remember this night for years to come. We also have the recipes we were able to take home and will be able to re-create and experiment with the other dishes we did not work on.

It was amazing to see how a group of strangers of varying experience could work separately and yet together, sharing counter space, tools, and stove tops to produce a truly enjoyable meal. This of course can be attributed to careful thought and planning on behalf of the school and the Chef Instructor Elise, our patient and knowledgeable leader in the kitchen. I can’t wait for my next class hopefully with mom by my side.

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