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.
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.
Whipping Egg Whites
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was full steam ahead a few weeks ago. My learning curve was steep and yet I felt like I was making progress. The past few weeks have been tough and I feel that I have lacked focus and dedication. Without the “forced” or better said “scheduled” time in the kitchen with a class, I have found it harder to devote time in my own kitchen to continue my learning, falling into old patterns of eating out re-heating leftovers. I can see a hidden benefit of formal training through a set schedule of progressive classes over time.
To compensate for my lack of time in the kitchen I have been reading more often, finishing Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America which I’ll be summarizing and reviewing shortly. In the weeks to come as I reach my goal date for the first part of my education, I’ll be trying the recipes from my classes while also finishing my culinary reading. I am just as excited as I was when I began this learning process and I am confident that I will continue to be so.
Last night was the final cooking class in the series that I had signed up for at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and I anticipated it with mixed emotions. The positive of course is that I have greatly enjoyed taking classes to enhance my skill and provide a foundation for cooking. I definitely feel better equipped to cook, more comfortable in the kitchen and even more excited about continuing on with my journey than I was when I first set out. I was sad that the series was coming to an end and not terribly excited about the subject matter, sauces. To me, sauces always seemed like too much work and not worth the effort. I also considered any dish at a restaurant served with a sauce other than gravy for chicken or turkey to be suspect and feared it was there to cover up food that had gone bad or was not top notch. I left class with a new appreciation for sauces and understanding of how they can compliment a dish to make it its best.
Class started as usual with a brief overview of the recipes and sauces that would be made. Chef instructor Angie asked if there was anything that we would like to learn that we hadn’t and then asked who wanted to cook each dish. Interestingly enough, two members of the class did not attend which somehow made it so there was a perfect number of people for the number of recipes that were given.
As always it was a tough choice for most with all of the recipes sounding different from what we had made before as well as delicious. Each dish would include one of the five mother sauces (some of which we had made previously): Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole or some variation of them. We could choose between Asparagus Eggs Benedict with Chipotle-Orange Hollandaise, Salmon Poached in a Wine Court Bouillon, Grilled Tenderloin with Sauce Robert, Crispy Almond Squid with Sauce Gribiche, Chicken Supremes Allemande, Crisp Potato Cannelloni with Zucchini and Shrimp or Pears Poached in Read Wine with Crème Anglaise and Caramel. Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog knows I have a strong affinity to steak, and so I jumped at the opportunity to make the tenderloin which I soon found out was a lot of work.
The steak included a Sauce Robert, a derivative of the Espagnole sauce. This old and painstaking sauce is rarely used anymore and after making it, it is easy to understand why. I was able to document the steps to my dish which are many.
The first part of the recipe for the Sauce Robert called for clarified butter. I put a large saucepan on the stove and set out to get my butter. Once I had the butter measured out I dropped a bit of it into the saucepan to start the melting process and was immediately greeted with hissing and smoke everywhere. The pan was way too hot. The butter instantly burned and turned black with billows of smoke going everywhere. Thank God for the stove vent. Time for a re-do.
I made sure there was enough butter and started again. Once the butter was melted I put it into a clear measuring cup and let it sit for a minute and then skimmed off the solid bits.
Using my knife skills I diced the carrots and onion into a small dice. It would appear that my skills need improvement to get a smaller dice with uniformity.
I placed the butter back into the hot sauce pan and put the onions in carrots in, stirring until they became translucent.
The next step I am convinced is why this is a sauce that you don’t see often. I added flour to my vegetables to make a roux.
After the flour was added I stirred for 30 minutes until my roux became amber. During this time it cooked down significantly.
Once amber, I added tomato paste and veal stock (another reason why this sauce is not popular as it takes 24 hours to make).
I then brought everything to a simmer and skimmed off the impurities that came to the surface. I realized that since the sauce would be skimmed this wasn’t really critical and when the mixture had reduced added the herbs directly to the pot since a cheese cloth would not provide any benefit.
Once the sauce had reduced I added another cup of stock and brought everything to a simmer while I simultaneously started working on the other half of the sauce.
I placed the diced shallot, Dijon mustard and white wine in a sauce pan and brought it to a boil.
Once reduced I mixed the wine reduction into the Espagnole sauce and simmered for 5 minutes.
The sauce didn’t have any salt so it was added liberally to bring out the flavor. One taste was all I needed to know why this sauce was special. It had an amazing taste and I imagined it would be good on top of meat.
Now it was time for the good stuff, grilling the tenderloins. Chef Angie got the grill started upstairs in another kitchen which was being used for a couples class while I go the meat ready on a wire rack. When the grill was hot, we went up stairs and grilled the meat for a couple of minutes to get some nice grill marks on it.
We then went back down the stairs and put the meat in a convection oven at 400 degrees. After about 10 minutes it was a nice medium-rare. The meat was left to rest for a few minutes as we got the sauce ready in a gravy cup.
She showed me how to slice a plate the meat going against the grain to ensure that the muscle fibers were shorter, making for a more tender and easier to chew bite.
As the class eagerly awaited for the moment of true, the tasting, I drizzled the sauce over the slices and took a bite of an end piece.
The sauce was worth the effort and my classmates agreed. It was nice and thick and added a great body and flavor to the meat which hadn’t been seasoned at all. I don’t know that I will make the sauce anytime soon.
I also captured two additional dishes that my classmates made, the Eggs Benedict and a modified pasta recipe which was created due to time constraints. Luck or not, everything turned out amazing.
I really enjoyed my cooking class experience. I would recommend it to anyone with experience or not. Skeptics may state that I could have just followed the recipes at home and saved the money I spent on the course, but a truly valuable aspect of going to class is having a teacher there that can tell you what you did wrong and more importantly how to fix it. If you have never made a Hollandaise or Espagnole Sauce obviously you don’t know how it’s supposed to taste. I may take another class in the future but at this point I want to finish my initial planned course of study and practice the basics that I learned from this class. I feel that the supplemental reading I have planned will help me fill in some knowledge gaps and help me better decide what to do next.
Friday’s cooking class was so much fun. The focus was on grilling, sautéing and roasting, all of which result in truly delicious food. I came to class stuffed from my company’s international buffet day wondering if I could even eat another bite. I would soon learn that this would not be a problem. Everything turned out great.
I arrived to find that we were in yet another kitchen; we had officially used every kitchen in the school. This was the only one with a proper grill though so it made sense that we would use it. I signed in, grabbed the recipe handout and sat down ready to read through the recipes and listen to the brief lecture regarding the methods. Once most of us had arrived, we went through the recipes and picked the ones we wanted to work on. We were given many great options including: A Warm Salad of Fruits, Endives, and Pancetta, Honey Spiced Pork Roast, Diablo Skirt Steak, Indian Flavored Grilled Vegetables with Paneer, Quinoa with Sauteéd Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms, Grilled Swordfish Verde, and Grilled Cranberry-Orange Zinfandel Bread. I teamed up with my classmate Anthony with whom I had worked on making the French onion soup to make the Diablo Skirt Steak this week. I love steak and with summer coming up, the recipe was too good to pass up..
While trying to get our bearings in the new kitchen, Anthony and I started off with searching for our ingredients along with tasting some canned salsa that was set out for the recipe we would be making. The recipe called to use half of the salsa as a marinade for our skirt steak and the other half to put on top after the steak was grilled. We decided to use the salsa as the marinade and then to make our own salsa as outlined in the recipe using fresh ingredients. This proved to be a wise choice, given the color, texture and taste of our salsa. We bagged our steak and set it aside to marinate before moving forward.
We made our salsa pretty quickly using rubber gloves to seed and dice the jalepeños. It was strange to use gloves, but I was happy I did given the heat of the peppers I was cutting. Finishing this task early put us in an interesting position as we had to wait at least 30 minutes for the marinating. We did not have a food task to work on, allowing us to observe others and converse. It just so happened that others were nearing a good stopping point just after we did, allowing Chef Angie to provide us with a demonstration and a special surprise. She would show us how to prepare a new recipe for steak and lobster, a special treat she brought in for us.
I don’t know why I was surprised, but the lobsters were alive when she showed them to us, moving and squirming around. The immediate thought was about the lobsters going into a boiling pot of water to cook, but as it turns out she would show us another method for killing them and cooking them with the steak. She actually twisted them apart to our surprise and then put the tail and claws on a baking sheet to go in the oven for 6 minutes. This was another interesting reminder of how removed we are from the food that we eat and where it comes from.
The steak was also cooked in the oven, and then slit and stuffed with lobster and placed back in the oven until the meat was cooked through. The combination of grilled steak and lobster were to die for. I felt truly fortunate to have such a fun instructor who is always looking to show us something new and exciting.
After our steak had marinated for about an hour, we took it out of the bag an placed it on the grill for four minutes on each side just like the recipe called for.
The steak was then brought to a serving platter and checked for “doneness” with a thermometer, it read 109 degrees. Anthony asked Chef Angie to tell us what level the steak had been cooked to, to which she replied simply “raw”. After a good laugh, considering the obviousness of this given the blood pouring out of our meat, we placed the steak on a baking sheet and cooked it in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. At this point it was cooked perfectly. We learned that most steaks in restaurants begin with searing on the stove but are actually finished in the oven to the appropriate level of cooking based on the order. The steak was sliced and then plated on a serving platter with the salsa. We were given a brief overview of plating, which dishes to use when serving for singles or family style and advice on how to plate a dish using elements of the recipe to add color and appeal. We garnished our dish with lime slices on the side.
The steak and the rest of the dishes were amazing, especially the bread which took on a totally new flavor once grilled over an open flame. It is truly amazing how fast the class is learning, coming together and gaining comfort in the kitchen after only five weeks.
Our final class is in two weeks due to the Easter and Passover holidays. We’ll go over sauces while refining the cooking techniques we have learned since the beginning. This will be a great way to end our class series leaving me and others more confident in the kitchen while also leaving us with a few great recipes under our belts and I’m really looking forward to it.