Cooking School Week 11

bay bridge

Here is another breathtaking shot for you from Jack Early park, the terrace that I told you about last week.  This is the Bay Bridge, which leads to the East Bay where I live.  Beautiful, no? 🙂

I’m over halfway done with school, folks.  Halfway.  It seems like it was just yesterday, but big things are happening in the kitchen.  I seem to have found my stride, and I’ve become much more confident and efficient.  I’ve improved, but I have a long way to go.

When my instructor assigns us what to make for the day, she often assigns us a side dish with no recipe.  Think polenta, rice pilaf, potato gratin, braised vegetables, etc.  She says — and she’s right — that we should be able to whip these dishes up without instructions.  It’s pushing us to do one of the main reasons I went to school in the first place — to have the technical know-how and confidence to develop my own recipes.  Scary and exciting!

This week was extremely busy.  It seems like we’re bustling around non-stop even more these days, and I have less time to take pictures.  Monday was a workshop in braising and stewing, and we cranked out 14 dishes.  It was almost crazy how much food there was.  I had to stop eating before all the dishes were out as I couldn’t stomach any more food.  This was one of our busiest days, and I was assigned duck — AGAIN.  I broke down 2 whole ducks and reserved the breasts for the next day.  I braised the duck legs in a porcini mushroom-white wine sauce and made fresh pasta — pappardelle with fresh parsley.  It literally took all day to make!

Tuesday was a sit-down lunch day in which we served two guests.  It was duck breast day, and I tell ya, I’ve had more duck than I can stand.  Complain, complain. 😉  I just don’t care for it, so I just taste it and skip over it.

duck breast with cassis

Duck Breast with Cassis.  It was served over wild rice.

goat cheese beet salad

I was assigned this roasted beet and goat cheese salad, which was light and refreshing butter lettuce salad, with flavorful roasted beets and fresh goat cheese towers.  Mmmm!

braised baby carrots

These braised carrots were served with the duck breast, and they were such gorgeous baby carrots that I had to take a photo.  I told you I’m a produce nerd. 😉

almond poppy seed cake

Dessert was one of the best cakes ever.  Almond-Lemon poppyseed cake with berries and mascarpone cream frosting.  Yes, I know — incredible, right?  The cake was so light with big almond flavor.  It was my favorite part. 🙂

Wednesday was another non-photo day.  It was a workshop in beef and lamb, and another classmate and I worked on a braised, stuffed lamb loin which entailed cooking a barley-spinach-pinenut filling to go into the lamb loin and actually sewing it up with a needle and thread!  I was in charge of deboning the lamb loin while my classmate made the filling.  I then sewed it up and that was an experience since this girl does not sew.  Cook yes, seamstress no!  We also made glazed turnips and rutabagas with poppyseed breadcrumbs.  I enjoyed the turnip dish much more than the lamb.  The loin was just a bit too fatty for me.

Thursday was another lunch day with more guests.  I was in charge of dessert, which I’ll get to in a moment!  We enjoyed a chanterelle mushroom and leek soufflé with a tarragon beurre blanc, which is not shown. (sigh)

baked fish with fennel and chermoulah

Baked halibut with cherboulah (South African spice rub), with couscous, braised fennel and beet greens.  This dish was nothing short of amazing.

panna cotta with cranberries

My dessert was panna cotta topped with cranberries and a honey crisp.  The panna cotta required gelatin to help it set, and there wasn’t enough time to get it to completely set in the short period of time, so it wept a bit.  It didn’t matter!  It was so creamy as it’s made with whole milk and yogurt.  The cranberries had orange zest with port wine, which was a nice contrast to the creamy, rich panna cotta.  The honey crisp was a bit cumbersome, but it really was worth it here.  I’ll be posting a panna cotta in the future at some point. 🙂

Thursday afternoon we had a demo on holiday breads — brioche, challah, dresden stollen, etc.  The woman that did the demo was Rachel Leising, who used to work as a pastry teacher at our school.  She went on to open her own bakery in SF, and worked at Citizen Cake in SF with none other than Elizabeth Faulkner.  Impressive!  She presented the breads and recipes, and Friday was our day to recreate them.  Daunting, to say the least. 😉

Friday was holiday bread day.  I chose to make the Dresden Stollen, a German bread with candied orange and lemon peel and raisins, with vanilla sugar all over the outside.  Rachel’s was heavenly!  We cranked up the heat in the kitchen because it was a cold day so that our yeast breads would rise better.  There were pots and pans heating under the shelf over the oven where our breads were, and during the second rise, mine started to cook!  Ugh.  I had to throw away part of the dough.  My instructor showed me how to shape one loaf while I shaped the other, and her loaf came out much more puffier and full than mine.  She said it was just a lighter touch.  Clearly I need to stop manhandling my bread dough. 😉

Here is our final display of our breads:

holiday breads

Pretty spectacular!  My stollen is the bottom right loaf — I gave the lovelier loaf to the owner when she asked if she could have one of my loaves.  What was I going to do, give her the flat one?  I did what any good student would do. 🙂

Tips of the Week:

  • When braising, season meet ahead and even overnight to increase flavor.
  • Brown the meat before braising on a high heat to get as much color as possible without cooking the meat.  Cook in batches — don’t overcrowd the pan or the meat will steam instead.
  • Braises are great make ahead meals — the longer they sit, the more flavor they have.
  • When buying beets, keep the greens and cook them just like spinach, chard, or kale.  They have great flavor!
  • Peel roasted beets by rubbing with a paper towel.  The skins come right off!
  • When making enriched bread doughs like brioche, it’s best done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment because there’s so much butter in the dough.
  • The longer bread dough sits, or ferments, the deeper the flavor.  It hydrates the bread as well.
  • The best success when incorporating ingredients when baking is if they’re all at the same temperature — generally room temperature.
  • When baking bread, you’re looking for the maynard effect — browning and caramelizing the outside to a mahogany color which equals more flavor.
  • When adding herbs to a dish, you get a deeper flavor when they’re added at the beginning, and a fresher flavor when they’re added at the end.
  • Always buy spices whole if possible.  They’re like coffee — once they’re ground, they lose their flavor and become bitter.
  • Grind spices in the coffee grinder and clean the grinder by grinding dry rice in it.

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