Cooking 101: Back to Basics – Grilling, Sautéing and Roasting

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.

Salsa For Steak Diablo
Salsa For Steak Diablo

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.

Chef Instructor Angie
Chef Instructor Angie

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.

Chef Instructor Angie Killing A Lobster
Chef Instructor Angie Killing A Lobster

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.

Streak On Grill For Steak Diablo
Streak On Grill For Steak Diablo

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.

Steak Diablo with Salsa
Steak Diablo with Salsa

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.

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Cooking 101: Back to Basics – Stocks, Soups, and Salads

Tonight’s focus for class at Cambridge Culinary was on stocks, soups, and salads. I was especially excited about this class because learning about stocks is key to sauce making, the focus for the final class in the series.

Last week were given the recipes on our way out so we would have time to study them. It didn’t take me long before I knew what I wanted, and I came to class with the intent of making French Onion Soup and Salad Niçoise. I arrived at school to find that we would be learning in a different, smaller kitchen. A large private class was using “ours” and as chance would have it, a few classmates did not show up for this class so we had plenty of room. We opened with a brief lecture about stocks. Given the time required to make a proper beef, chicken or veal stock we would not be making any, although we would be using some that were created by a professional program class. Once we decided on what we would be making we went to work.

I started with the French Onion Soup as it required heat and extensive cooking time, hoping that I could move onto the Salad Niçoise as I had time.  I melted my butter in a pot on the stove and then moved onto slicing the onions. They were placed into the pot with the melted butter and I covered the pot to let them wilt down. Once sufficiently wilted, sugar was added to begin the caramelization process.

French Onion Soup, Onions Caramelizing
French Onion Soup, Onions Caramelizing

Once the onions were caramalized, beef stock was placed into the pot. It was reduced down so that the liquid was just barely covering the onions. Salt, pepper and burgundy wine were added along with more stock and reduced down again at a slow simmer.

French Onion Soup, Simmering
French Onion Soup, Simmering

Unfortunately there weren’t any small ceramic ramekins for the soup, so we improvised with a large one.   Enough French bread was cut to cover the bottom of the rameking and then the soup was poured over the bread. We also couldn’t find the gruyère cheese, the kitchen was a mess at this point, so we improvised with a gruyère smelling cheese. It had a very sharp flavor and after coating the top of the soup I questioned if it was a good choice.

French Onion Soup, Ready For The Oven
French Onion Soup, Ready For The Oven

The next step was to put the soup into an pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F until the cheese browned and there was some bubbling. I took it out and set it on the table next to the other soups and then the real fun began.

French Onion Soup, Ready To Eat
French Onion Soup, Ready To Eat

With all of the soups on the table we were able to try each one. They were fantastic! Everyone did a really good job. I felt like my soup was a bit too sweet, but overall it had a well balanced flavor and texture and the cheese was good too. At this point the class was near over and I had no time to make the salad I had hoped to make.

This week I hope I can re-make the French Onion Soup using store bough beef broth to compare the results. I have no doubt it will not be the same, but given the time and effort required to make a proper stock, store-bought is going to be my likely alternative.

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