Cooking School Week 21

bay bridge

Here we are…the second to last week of cooking school.  The past few weeks have been more grueling than ever as Mama Bird (our instructor), is getting her baby birds ready to leave the nest for restaurant world, catering ventures, teaching, or freelance food writing, food photography, recipe development, and the dream of publishing a cookbook.  Yup, that last part was me. 🙂  I’ve been studying SO hard for the improvisational cooking, so I know what techniques I’ll use with certain cuts of meat, what flavors work the best together, and creating stocks and essences for sauces.  Blogging has been next to impossible up to this Monday, which was our last exam day.  I’m free and clear now, but Week 21 won the prize as the most stress-filled week for me.  I always place a lot of pressure on myself to do well, and this week was no exception.

Monday was another improvisational cooking day to prepare us for our final, which took place on March 10 (I’m keeping it mum, thank you). 😉  If you’ve been following along, you’ll recall that during Week 20 I had to improvise and make an appetizer, which was a butternut squash-leek-gruyere gallette with spinach pesto.  This time, however, we had to do an appetizer and a main course with all the bells and whistles.  I was ready, and I was hoping fish.  Guess what I got?  Fish!  I received a cod filet, eggplant, zucchini, and red bell pepper.  I was happy, because I love these ingredients. 🙂  Here’s what I made:

eggplant napoleon

My appetizer was an Eggplant “Napoleon” with herbed goat cheese, red pepper-kalamata tapenade, and balsamic reduction.  I roasted the eggplant slices until they were so soft, they practically melted in your mouth.  I layered them with the tapenade, then herbed, whipped goat cheese.  I topped the napoleon with toasted chopped walnuts and finished it with balsamic reduction.  My plating wasn’t stellar, but I was happy with the flavors.  My instructor gave it good reviews as well. 🙂

cod

My entree was Pan Fried Cod with Jasmine Rice and Sauteed Zucchini and Tomatoes in Brown Butter Vinaigrette.  My instructor liked the dish, as did I, but agreed that it needed one more element.  I was in such a rush I didn’t have time to plate as cleanly as I would’ve liked either, but that’s the nature of these timed exam preps!

Tuesday was a menu day with lunch guests, and I was informed that I was chef in the kitchen.  I didn’t put in much prep time because I had Wednesday’s improvisational cooking and Friday’s written exams on my mind.  It was a piece of cake, however, as my team was awesome.

beef consumme

The appetizer was Beef Consomme, which is pretty boring in my opinion.  It turned out perfectly with a crystal clear broth and nicely blanched root vegetables, but I like soups that stick to your ribs a lot more. 🙂

salmon en croute

The main dish was a show stopper — Salmon En Croute.  It’s nothing I would probably ever make…but it was fun.  My classmate filleted an entire whole salmon, and encased it in puff pastry with a fish mousse inside.  Different — yes!  Below is the finished dish:

salmon en croute2

Salmon En Croute with Beurre Blanc and Sauteed Green Beans.  The dish was good, but a bit rich for me.  I didn’t eat all of it as I was saving myself for dessert. 🙂

ind princess cake

Individual Princess Cakes were for dessert.  I don’t know about you, but I’d never known what a princess cake was before we had them at school.  Maybe I never had one growing up because I was always more of a tomboy than a princess?  Either way, the cake was a vanilla Genoise with simple syrup, raspberry jam filling, and whipped cream frosting.  It’s all covered in marzipan, which tasted ok, but I could never eat all of that!  I did eat all of the cake.  These cakes were very fussy, and took quite some time to complete despite the cake being already baked.

Wednesday was yet another improvisational cooking day, with an appetizer and main course.  It was timed again to prepare us for the big one on Monday…except Monday’s was going to include a dessert too.  At least the dessert was going to have a recipe. 😉  I was given a pork chop on the bone, fennel, kale, and celery root.  I really liked my ingredients!  I decided to use the fennel in a composed salad, because I couldn’t think of much else to do with it.

fennel and greens salad

Mixed Greens with Shaved Fennel, Orange, and Toasted Almond.  I used the fennel fronds in the salad, which made it look whimsical, and I made a champagne citrus vinaigrette.  I was really happy with the flavors…once I was able to sit down and eat it an hour later. 🙂

pork chop

My entree was Pork with Brandied Apples and Golden Raisins, Yukon Gold-Celery Root Gratin and Kale.  I removed the pork from the bone so that I could use the bone to make an essence, which I added to my reduced brandy and apples to create a sauce.  The dish turned out to be very tasty!

Thursday was a menu day using recipes my classmates and I submitted for an Asian menu.  It was fun cooking up Asian fare!  I got to roll up spring rolls, which I’d never done.  I worked on dessert, since it was a recipe I’d submitted.

asian menu

We enjoyed PF Chang’s Wontons, Spring Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce, and Green Papaya Salad.  And this was just the appetizer!

s&p quail

The main dish was Salt and Pepper Fried Quail with Lemon Dipping Sauce, Jasmine Rice, and Dry Fried Green Beans.  I’d never had quail, but it wasn’t bad.  It was just enough meat for me…very little…as I only wanted to try it!  Everything was delicious.

coconut creme caramel and ginger butter cookies

Dessert was Coconut Creme Caramel with Crystallized Ginger Butter Cookies.  I worked on the coconut creme caramel, and another classmate made the cookies.  Everything tasted great, but the cookies were my favorite!  They had orange zest in them, which was heavenly with all the ginger.

That afternoon, I was asked to assist Pastry Chef Rachel Leising, who’d come to our school twice before to demo holiday breads and advanced cake decorating.  She was demonstrating petit fours this time, so I just had to help keep the marzipan at a certain temperature.  If it got to cold, it wouldn’t stay pourable, and if it got too warm, it would lose it’s shine.  It wasn’t a tough job, and Rachel is wonderful!

petit fours

Here are some of Rachel’s petit fours, which were dipped in chocolate ganache.  I enjoyed the ones covered in ganache much more than the marzipan.  Ganache is where it’s at for me!

Friday was the big test…the big CLOSED BOOK TEST on everything we’ve done the past 6 months.  We were told some answers would be short, fill in the blank, some would be multiple choice, and a second part would be essay, requiring guidelines and steps involved in creating things like puff pastry, lobster bisque, knowing cuts of meat and dishes they’re used for….etc.  There would also be a blind wine tasting with two white and two red, with a blind herb tasting.  My brain was fried from studying, but I was ready as I ever would be.  We started the exam by 9:00, and I was done at 10:45.  I knew there were parts that I didn’t know too well, but I did my best and felt good about it overall.  I was just ready to get Monday’s practical exam done!  What a week this was, but I was happy it was over.

There were no tips for the week since we mainly reviewed, so I’m empty-handed in that department.  I hope you all have a great rest of the week, and thanks for stopping by to read about my adventures at school!

Marcie