Cooking School Week 12

christmas in SF

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!  I hope you’re enjoying a nice, relaxing day after a fun evening!  We had a mellow new year’s eve, which we needed.  Today will be dedicated to some food, including fresh crab, which I’m so ready for. 🙂   It’s been all about pasta with red sauce, seafood, and things that I haven’t indulged in over the holidays.  I don’t want to look at beef, turkey, or ham for a while!

I’m finally getting around to this post, which was a school week that ended 2 weeks ago!  We’ve all been busy, so I’m sure nobody missed it.  I needed the break as well. 🙂  When school got out, I was facing a bit of burnout, much like most people this time of year.  I hadn’t done much baking, and hadn’t done a lick of Christmas shopping.  Was I overwhelmed?  Not really…I was more underwhelmed with Christmas this year.  We went to some fun Christmas parties, and I enjoyed the decorations, but didn’t really get much time to relax and take it all in.  The only chance I got to revel in decorations and soak in the Christmas spirit was sitting at Peet’s coffee in SF by my train stop.  I always get my coffee, and check my emails and comment on blogs before I walk to school, because I am always very early!  Outside was this view of the cable car, lights, and it was so beautiful.

Week 12, as always was filled with mouthwatering dishes, as well as our school Christmas party!  Excitement was in the air…:)

Monday was our grilling workshop with marinades and outdoor cooking, which was ironically done indoors on a stove top made into a grill.  The fans were on full blast, and we got grilling, which is my favorite.  Dishes included grilled tofu, grilled radicchio and bread salad (YUM!), marinated tri tip with tortillas, and the dishes below.

grilled whole fish

This isn’t the best picture, but I had to take one — it’s Grilled Fish Suda Kelapa, which is grilled whole fish in banana leaves.  I tackled this dish with a classmate, and the fish was given to us whole with scales and innards.  We each had to de-scale the fish, which is messy and time consuming to say the least!  We had to gut the fish, so I decided not to be squeamish, and put on my big girl gloves. 😉   We then rinsed the fish, and marinate it in water, salt, and lots of lime juice.  I made a citrus butter for it, and cleaned up more fish while my classmate prepared the Caribbean mango coconut rice.  This dish was unbelievably good, so I will definitely make it at home…with de-scaled fish. 🙂

grilled leg of lamb with blood orange and avocado salad

Grilled Leg of Lamb with Blood Orange and Avocado Salad.  I love lamb, so I knew I would love this.  The salad had a wonderful, fresh citrus flavor with a blood orange vinaigrette.

chicken legs in szechwan red cooking sauce with curried coconut green beans

Chicken Legs with Szechwan Red Cooking Sauce with Curried Coconut Green Beans.  The sauce was spicy, rich, and delicious, and the green beans had loads of curry-coconut flavor.  Very delicious dish!

Tuesday we had lunch guests, and we had duck…again.  I knew I wasn’t going to eat any this time — duck breast is just wasted on me.

soupe aux moules

Our appetizer was Soupe aux Moules, or Cream of Mussels Soup.  It was delicious with all of the julienned vegetables.

magret of duck with roasted chestnuts and apples

I apologize for the blurry photo!  This is Magret of Duck with Roasted Apples and Chestnuts.  I ate the sauce and the apples and chestnuts, as I can never pass up roasted fruits or veggies!

wild rice cakes

I made these wild rice cakes, which were so crispy and delicious!  My rice was crunchy at the end of cooking, but my teacher told me to just cover the rice with more water in the pan and continue to cook it like pasta until it’s tender, then drain it.  By golly it worked!  My instructor is a genius. 🙂

individual chocolate cakes

The best part of lunch?  Dessert!  Individual Chocolate Cakes filled with Chocolate Bavarian Cream.  These tasted like gourmet Hostess Ding Dongs, and were a crowd pleaser!

I’m so sorry I have no photos for you from Wednesday — it was pastry for savory hors d’ oeurves.  I was tasked the mini cheddar biscuits with homemade bacon on cheese, as well as making crepes for our beggar’s purses for our class Christmas party on Friday.  I made more crepes in a few hours than they do in a day on the streets of Paris, I think. 😉  We also enjoyed three cheese pastries, mushroom turnovers, mini spanakopita, pizzetta, and gougeres.  I was pastried out at the end of the day, but everything was so good.

Thursday we had more lunch guests, and the menu was extremely elegant!

buckwheat blinis with smoked salmon and caviar

We started off with Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche, and a dollop of caviar.  The blinis had a wonderful nutty flavor with such crispy edges.  What a great appetizer!

beef wellington

Beef Wellington was our main course…need I say more?  I was tasked this with another classmate, and it was so fun to make.  I trimmed the beef fillet down and browned it all over, while my classmate made the mushrooms and whipped the foie gras.  We then spread the meat with the foie gras, rolled in the mushroom mixture, and wrapped it in puff pastry and decorated it.  I didn’t expect to like it as it’s so over the top…but I loved it.  It was pretty rare, which everyone loved.  I won’t be eating this again any time soon, but it was so much fun to make, especially with a very successful outcome. 🙂

We ended the meal with Crepe Suzettes in orange butter, and they were outstanding.

After we ate so much rich food, we had a demonstration for Buche de Noel that afternoon.  Mary Risley, the owner of the school made it in no time.

buche de noel

Isn’t it pretty?  Meringue mushrooms, fondant holly and berries, espresso buttercream, chocolate buttercream and a chocolate genoise cake.  I hit the gym after class that day!

Friday was the big day — Tante Marie’s Annual Christmas party.  We were allowed to invite family and/or friends, and the pastry teacher, the owner, and some chefs that had done demos were expected, too.  We were prepping for the party all week, and Friday was assembly day.  We were allowed to play Christmas music while we worked, and I said I felt like we were elves in a Santa’s workshop!  It was the day that it felt the most like Christmas for me.

christmas party1

Here is an aerial shot of our front table that a classmate and I had decorated.  We were basically the caterers for this party.  It was so much fun!  There were so many fabulous Hors d’oeurves!

shrimp with romesco, endive spears and beggars purses

Shrimp with romesco sauce in the front, endive spears with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and dill on the back left, and beggar’s purses that I made.  They were the crepes that I’d made Wednesday with a dollop of creme fraiche and caviar, tied with a blanched green onion.

goat cheese torte

Goat Cheese torte with olives and crackers.  The goat cheese was whipped with ricotta and layered with the olives.  It was amazing!

foie gras with toast

Duck liver pate with toasts.  Not really my thing!

deviled eggs, spiced almonds, and potatoes with smoked salmon and creme fraiche

Deviled Eggs with homemade mayo, spiced almonds, and baby potatoes with smoked salmon and creme fraiche.

butternut squash hummus

Butternut Squash and Tahini Spread with pita triangles.  Butternut squash hummus — what an idea!  It was very tasty.

The pastry table was like a magnet for me — I couldn’t stay away.  Candies, jellies, cookies, you name it.  I was a kid in a candy store. 🙂

jellies, nougats, and dragees

Almond dragees were my favorite, hands down.  Almonds were toasted in sugar giving them a caramel coating, then they were dipped in chocolate and rolled in cocoa or powdered sugar.  I couldn’t keep my hands off of them!  I also loved the nougat candy with almonds, and the passion fruit jellies were a burst of tropical flavor.

dessert tray 1

There were also mini almond cupcakes filled with raspberry jam and topped with mascarpone frosting, individual mini chocolate cakes, chocolate sables, and chocolate dipped macaroons that I had made.  So many sweet treats, so little time.  Guess what?  We each got to take a cake round full of treats home, and I loaded up on the almond dragees. 🙂

What a week it was!  I had so much fun at the Christmas party, especially having my husband there to meet my classmates and their significant others or friends.  Week 13 is going to be a busy one, which starts January 6th.  We will have one week until our second Exam day…I only hope with a bit more experience that I tackle this exam more efficiently.

Tips of the week:

  • Use good quality mesquite or other wood when grilling/smoking as it flavors the meat.
  • Don’t use lighter fuel as it flavors the food — use a chimney instead (I use a gas grill…way easier!)
  • Did you know that barbecuing is long, slow cooking only, for tougher cuts of meat?  Think slow cooked ribs, pork butt, etc.  Grilling is the quicker version for more tender cuts of meat like steaks, fish, etc.
  • Marinate meats ahead, but avoid adding too much oil as the oil drips into the coals or gas flame causing flare-ups which result in a burnt oil flavor.  Pat meat dry prior to putting it on the grill, and trim large amounts of fat as well.
  • Don’t flip your meat until it releases from the grill!  If it doesn’t release, it’s not ready to flip.
  • At parties or when entertaining, serve starchier food first as people typically arrive hungry, then serve the fancier, more expensive food later.
  • People always remember the last dishes the most, so save the best for last!
  • When rolling out pastry dough, the first roll-out is always the best, so maximize it when cutting dough rounds for petite tarts and biscuits.
  • Don’t roll leftover pastry dough into a ball — fold it over into flat layers and press it down, which won’t develop the gluten further and toughen it.
  • When decorating the food table for a party, place the food on the tablecloth first, then decorate afterward.  There should be varying heights so that it’s easier to see all of the dishes and the table looks more interesting.
  • When serving shrimp or olives, place a small bowl next to them with a shrimp tail or olive pit in it so that people know what the bowl is for.
  • Nobody ever wants to take the first bite, so you should!  Sounds good to me. 🙂
  • Did you know that every time you open up the oven door, the temperature drops 50 degrees?  That slows down cooking time, so it’s best to use the oven light as much as possible, until the end of the cooking time.
  • When adding melted chocolate to frosting, it must be the same temperature as the buttercream.
  • Always remove baked goods from the pan to cool after the first 5 minutes or they’ll steam and get soggy.

Have a great New Year’s Day!


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