Cooking School Week 13

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sf neighborhood

We returned to school on January 6 from Christmas break, and our instructor informed us that it’s a downhill slide from here on out.  As if the time that’s passed hasn’t gone by fast enough, the second half is apparently going to go by at warp speed.  If it’s any indication, last week flew by faster than any other has for me.  As usual, it was full of challenges, but things are different this half.  We’re working more in teams, and we no longer plate a dish on one big serving platter, but on warm plates restaurant-style, showing off our presentation skills (or lack thereof ). 😉  We are also winging it more, or using our creativity to improvise a dish, which does sound fun.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road, and we will soon realize how much we’ve really learned. 🙂

On our first day back we were greeted with Antipasta and Stuffed Pasta day.  I was very excited mulling over the menus for the day — they were all fresh and packed with veggies prepared a variety of way.  The best part about antipasti is that it’s all do-ahead, and nothing needs to be warm — room temperature is what you want.  I love that, and I can’t wait to make many of the dishes at home. 🙂

As for the stuffed pastas, we made our own pasta dough, rolled it out, and made tortellini filled with ground meat and ricotta, spinach ricotta ravioli, and sweet potato filled cappellaci with brown butter.   Needless to say, the sweet potato was my all time favorite. 🙂  Below are but a few of the dishes that we prepared:

eggplant tricolore

Eggplant tricolor, which is grilled eggplant topped with peppers, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil.  Isn’t this dish just a feast for the eyes?? 🙂

shaved fennel salad

Shaved Fennel and Parmesan Salad, made by Yours Truly.  I’ve never been a fennel fan, but here at school, we’ve made so many delicious dishes with fennel that I really enjoy it now.  This salad was crunch, fresh, and bright with lemon zest and juice.  The shaved parmesan added a salty, nuttiness to this dish, and I just couldn’t stop eating it.

grilled asparagus

Yeah, it’s mainly just grilled asparagus with a balsamic dressing, but who can argue with how delicious grilled asparagus is?  I love to eat it stalk after stalk after stalk… 😉

marinated peppers

Marinated Peppers with Anchovies and Garlic was a bowl filled with delicious roasted peppers with a garlic, anchovy, and olive oil marinade.  That anchovy gave this dish so much umami flavor.  Incredible.

grilled mushrooms

Who doesn’t love portobello mushrooms?  I LOVE mushrooms, so these meaty Grilled Mushrooms with olive oil and fresh herbs were right up my alley.

roasted onions

The photo is a bit blurry, but these are Roasted Onions.  These are onions to be excited about…slow roasted whole in olive oil until they’re so tender that they’re falling apart.  These put caramelized onions to shame. 😉

potatoes with olives

These Potatoes with Olives were cooked with anchovies, capers, and olives.  You might think that sounds like a lot of saltiness, but it wasn’t — these were some of the best potatoes ever!

saffron cauliflower

Last, but certainly not least, is this Saffron Cauliflower with red onion, golden raisins, and green olives.  I had two helpings of this dish!   I love cauliflower, but I’ve never had a cauliflower dish with so much flavor.  I still think about it, too. 🙂

Finally, I’m done talking about anitpasta day — clearly I loved it!  Tuesday we had guests for lunch, and my classmates and I were paired up to work on all of the courses.  I worked on dessert.  Our menu was spectacular as you can see below:

spinach and ricotta gnocchi

Our appetizer was this Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi, which includes no potato.  I just found out at school that all gnocchi does not include potato, they’re simply dumplings.  There was nothing simple about these — they were just delectable.

sea bass with bouillabase broth

This Sea Bass with Bouillabaise Broth, Potato & Fennel Puree, and Red Pepper Aioli was to die for.  I would’ve paid $28 for this dish at a restaurant easily!  The seafood or bouillabaisse broth was light and delicate, and the puree had a mild fennel flavor.  That fish, well you can see how crispy it was!  Mmmm.

pear and mango smoothie in tulipes

My classmate and I were tasked with two sorbets — mango and pear — with poached fruit on top and homemade edible bowls that are basically cones.  The pear sorbet I made included white wine, and I really loved the flavor!  The mango had lime juice, so it was bright and refreshing.  I can’t wait to start using my ice cream maker. 🙂

Wednesday was a CRAZY day, so I have no photos.  We had charcuterie day, and we made our own sausages, filled them in the casing, made rillettes, crepinettes, and pates.  Now, I think I told you I do not enjoy pate, so it was kind of hard for me to try them.  It’s like eating cold meat loaf to me…ugh.  The sausages were good, though!

Thursday was another fabulous menu with lunch guests, and I got a whopper of a task.  I was teamed up with a classmate that is smaller than I am, and we were told we were handling the grilled rib-eye dish.  This included setting up the indoor grill equipment, which is heavy.  We didn’t want to be the damsels in distress, so we did it.  Woot, woot!  We got that grill going and showed that girls really can grill. 🙂  Sadly, I was so busy manning the grill, that I couldn’t take any photos.  Our appetizer was an Herb Crepe with Goat Cheese Souffle inside, and our entree was Grilled Rib-eye with Gigante Beans, Wild Mushrooms, and Herb Salad.  The bean dish was made with dried beans, which we made in the pressure cooker, and it was done in about 1 hour.  It was amazing, and I will be making that at home soon!  Our dessert was a delicious, creamy Ricotta and Candied Kumquat Tart that I’m still having dreams about.

Friday was a workshop day in which we each had to make a sourdough bread from a starter.  It was fun, but I wasn’t happy with my bread.  It just didn’t get puffy.  I’m determined to do a re-do at home…success is the only outcome!  Our lunch that day included LOTS of pate (ugh), sausage, black truffles over my first ever risotto (!) and some delicious salads that might be found in a charcuterie.

truffle soup

Truffle Soup, with a lovely black truffle in the background.  One truffle is about $65 and I can see why — so flavorful, and SO absolutely delicious.  It added an earthy umami to this dish, and sadly, I loved it.  I wish I hated it, because it’s out of my price range.

risotto with truffles

My first risotto — I can hardly believe it took this long to make it!  It was a wild success, and I was very happy.  It was heavenly with shaved black truffle over it…just heavenly. 🙂


Nope, I still don’t like it, but I tried some pate that my classmate and I made the way my teacher told me to — with a slice of baguette, a bit of butter, the pate, cornichon and mustard.  I could tolerate it that way, but I did not go back for more.

leeks vinaigrette

Leeks Vinaigrette is slow roasted leeks with herbs, red bell pepper, and egg in a vinaigrette.  Very tasty!

And finally…the tips of the week:

*  Use asparagus stems to make a vegetable stock — they give the stock great flavor.

*  Scrape the gills out of portobello mushrooms as they can turn a sauce black.

*  Shrimp shells can be used to make a very flavorful fish stock!

*  Cold food like pate requires more spices as when food is cold, the spices aren’t pronounced.

*  It’s ok to keep butter in a crock at room temperature — if it’s a cool environment it will keep for 1 week or so.  Heat and oxygen make butter go rancid.

*  When baking bread, if it puffs up and browns quickly, turn down the heat for the remaining baking time.

*  Whole wheat bread doesn’t rise as much as white bread as the wheat germ breaks gluten strands.  This can be avoided by sifting the flour through a fine mesh sieve before the flour is mixed with the yeast and liquid, the mixing it in later after kneading.  Nice trick, eh?

*  When making bread dough, don’t add all of the water that the recipe calls for.  It’s better for the dough to be on the dry side and add more water than vice versa!

*  If during rising, plastic wrap sticks to the bread dough, place it in the freezer for a bit and it will come right off.

Thanks for stopping by to read about my culinary adventures.  I’ll have exam day for you next week!

Marcie 🙂

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