Cooking School Week 14

sf neighborhood

Week 14 of cooking school started with a bang — Monday was EXAM DAY.  If you’ve been following my cooking school series, then you’ve read about my first exam at the beginning of Week 8.  If you haven’t, here’s a recap.  We come in on exam day and we’re given recipes for an appetizer, entree, and dessert which we have to plate and present for judging.  We have 3 hours to cook before the appetizer must be presented, the entree 30 minutes after that, and dessert is 30 minutes after that.  We need every single second of that time, because each course has several components.  This time, we were to come up with a potato side dish of our choice using no recipe, and our instructor gave us some snap peas to cook up whatever way we pleased.  I felt pretty confident going in, but there’s always a level of uncertainty when you have no idea what you’ll be making.  Since we had fish last time, I was hoping for a protein that would cook quickly like a steak.  I did not want to prepare anymore dreaded duck! 🙂

When I walked into class, I immediately saw a pile of steaks on the counter.  YES!  But wait…then I saw a massive amount of whole chickens.  Would she really do that to us — have us break down a whole chicken during exams?  Yes, I can do it, but I’m still not fast.  Thankfully, it wasn’t the chicken.  Here are my finished dishes and my scores:

beet salad

Baby Beet and Goat Cheese Salad.  The salad was butter lettuce, roasted beets, toasted walnut halves, warm goat cheese coated in bread crumbs and parsley, and homemade croutons with a red wine vinaigrette.  The preparation of it went well, but my two classmates and I who were working in the back kitchen didn’t get our goat cheese in the oven early enough to brown.

Scoring:  I received a 9 out of 10 for appearance — I actually placed some walnuts upside down — oops!  My goat cheese also didn’t have time to brown in the oven.  My salad received an 8 out of 10 on taste as my beets had a tiny bit of crunch to them (wince!), and my dressing had a bit too much vinegar, which is just the way I like it. 🙂

beef bordelaise

Beefsteak Bordelaise.  We were given meat trimmings to prepare an essence for our pan sauce, which takes around 30-40 minutes depending on the temperature.  The trimmings are browned, then then a ladle full of stock is added and reduced.  The process is repeated about 3-4 times, or until the essence is a nice, thick glaze.  I got on that early, and let it stand.  I decided to prepare potato gratin as my potato side dish, as I could virtually place it in the pan and forget about it and just stir it here or there.  I had everything else still to do on my entree after the salad went up, which isn’t good.  30 minutes to get my meat on, sauté mushrooms, make a sauce, cook snap peas, finish my sauce, and plate?  UGH.  I was a bit frenzied, and so was everybody else.  Cooking a steak is no brainer for me, thank goodness, so that was no prob.  The sauce?  That was a prob.  It tasted over-reduced and horrid!  I added water and salt, swirled in butter, and I still wasn’t happy with it.  I repeated this process 3 times and finally thought it was satisfactory.  As you can see, I didn’t put very much sauce on the plate, probably because subconsciously I didn’t think it was good enough.

Scoring:  I received an 8 out of 10 for appearance, as I didn’t put enough sauce on the plate, and it was a bit broken — silly me.  Shockingly, I received a 10 out of 10 for taste.  I high-fived myself for fixing my sauce, and for cooking my meat and potato gratin to perfection. 🙂

lemon tart

Tarte au Citron.  It turns out that we got a quick cooking protein for the entree because we had to make pie dough, blind bake it, fill it with a luscious, lemony filling, and bake it again.  Man, oh man.  We got to work on the crust really early, chilled it, rolled it out, got it in the tart pan, and chilled it again.  It was a lot to do, but I was fairly comfortable with it.  My dough came out great, but the edges were uneven.  When I poured the lemon filling into my crust, I realized I’d forgotten to strain it and there were tiny pieces of egg white visible.  OMG!  I knew I blew it and there was no time to fix it.  My instructor said no garnish or cream at all, as it didn’t need any.  Too bad for me.  I was mortified by it’s appearance.  If you follow me on Instagram, you know I got to take my tart home, and it tasted so good that I photographed it so I could post it! 🙂

Scoring:  My tart received an 8 out of 10 on appearance, as the filling was bubbly and the edges were uneven.  Not too bad!  I received a 10 out of 10 on taste, and I was floored.  Definitely posting this tart!

Overall, I received 63 out of a possible 70, and got 96% on my written exam.  I’m not flunking out of school just yet. 😉

Tuesday we had lunch guests, and we had a fabulous menu!

herb ricotta ravioli

Herb Ricotta Ravioli with Cavolo Nero and Golden Raisins.  I would’ve been happy just to have eaten this for lunch, but NO…we didn’t stop there.

grilled tuna

Grilled Tuna with cauliflower and chickpeas with kumquat-pomegranate salsa.  Beautiful dish, no?  It tasted even better.  That salsa was unbelievably good, and it nothing I would have ever thought of.  We used it two days later in our salad dressing too.  The possibilities are endless!

ginger cake

As if the first two course weren’t enough food, this AMAZING Fresh Ginger Cake with Poached Pear and Creme Fraiche Ice Cream came out.  Gingerbread, gingersnaps, anything ginger, and I’m there.  This was adapted from David Leibowitz’s renowned fresh ginger cake, and it was out of this world moist and delicious.  I was one happy camper…and boy was I full.

Wednesday was crazy hectic.  We learned how to debone a whole chicken the afternoon before, and worked with partners and each deboned a chicken and stuffed them with the filling of our choice.  My partner and I chose to stuff them with farro, swiss chard, currants, and hazelnuts.  We sewed the chickens up and roasted them off.  Voila!  We had chicken ballotine.  That my friends, took about all day.

Thursday we had another delicious lunch menu with guests of a classmate.  Drumroll please….

sweet potato gnocchi

Handmade Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage Sauce made my Yours Truly and my classmate.  It was a phenomenal experience, and I loved making this!  I was so excited about this dish, and it lived up to the hype.  I’m making this at home!

medallions of pork

Medallions of Pork with Figs, Braised Celery, and Millet Cake.  The pork was from the half pig that was butchered in our class back in December, and it was so succulent and juicy!  The millet cake was like a grainy cornbread, and I actually really enjoyed it.

passion fruit bav cream cake

Passion Fruit Bavarian Cream Cake.  My classmate had gone by and given me a spoonful of her passionfruit Bavarian cream before she filled her cakes and I almost died a happy death.  Just the filling was bursting with flavor!  The cake was a genoise — nice and spongy — and was soaked in a lime simple syrup and smothered in whipped cream and toasted coconut.  Really, the desserts this week were some of the best I’ve ever eaten. 🙂

Friday we made our own puff pastry dough, which was wrapped up to tackle on Monday.  I can’t wait. 🙂  In the afternoon, we had a guest speaker, cookbook author and food writer Jill Silverman Hough, who writes for Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, etc.  She’s written wine and food pairing books, and she came to school us about just that — pairing the right wines with food.  We tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (my favorite), and Merlot.  In a nutshell, you should pair citrusy wines with citrusy food, and the acidity will mellow.  If you do the opposite, the acidity will be enhanced and make the wine less enjoyable.  The same goes for pairing sweet wine with sweet food.  I actually don’t prefer to drink white wines, but after this tasting, I really understand that I’ll get the most out of my food if I drink a wine that really compliments it!  I could go on and on, but I bought her book and recommend it!  It’s titled “100 Perfect Pairings — Main Dishes to enjoy with the wines you love”.  Check out Jill’s blog for more info. 🙂

As for the tips of the week, my notebook is at school and I’m at home ill at this moment, so I will double up next week.  That bug finally got me.  Thanks for stopping by to read about my cooking school escapades!

Marcie