Cooking School Week 17


Can you believe this photo was taken in February?  It’s almost too gorgeous outside to be true, but that’s been life in the San Francisco Bay Area, with blue skies and barely any rain to speak of.  We’ve finally gotten some, and I even got poured on during my walk to the train after school on Friday.  I was drenched, but I was so thankful that it was raining.  We’ve gotten more since then, but we needs loads more.  It’s hard to fathom people back East are being snowed in and here we are.  No happy medium, I tell ya. 🙂

Monday started off with my classmates and I testing our own bean or grain recipes in class.  I wasn’t too nervous as I test recipes at home and re-write them all the time.  I was happy with my dish, but I didn’t think it was complex enough, and it needed some depth.  I spoke to my instructor about it, and re-wrote it based on our discussion.  Here are some of our dishes:

wild rice stuffed squash

Wild Rice Salad Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Spicy Yogurt Dressing and Pumpkin Seeds.  This was my dish.  The title is a mouthful, and the dish was, too.  I couldn’t get the idea of making a wild rice blend salad out of my head, so I made that.  To make it more like a meal, I roasted these dumpling squash first, then filled them with the salad, which included orange segments, green onions, and dried cranberries in an orange vinaigrette.  I drizzled a Greek yogurt dressing over the top with cilantro, cayenne, and honey.  My mistake was including more orange zest in the dressing, which just made it too sweet.  The whole thing was topped off with toasted pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and more cilantro.  I really loved the flavors, it just needed more oomph. 🙂

split pea soup

Another classmate made this split pea soup with ham and homemade crackers.  I love split pea soup, and this was just delicious.

spicy lentil soup

This lentil soup had a beautiful kick to it, and I love what it was paired with…

savory jalapeno scones

….savory scones with jalapeño!

red beans indian dish

This was an Indian dish with red beans and blinis that a classmate made, and I apologize that I didn’t catch the name on most of these, but it was a bit chaotic!  This was my favorite dish, and I went back for a little more.  It was soulful and spicy!


Homemade Falafel and pita bread.  My hat’s off to my classmate for whipping up homemade pita bread, Falafel, and the salsa in such a short time!

buckwheat cake with ice cream and butterscotch caramel

One classmate made a gluten-free dessert, which was a buckwheat cake with buckwheat ice cream, poached oranges, and butterscotch caramel.  The cake was light and delicious!

Tuesday was our menu day, and we had some lunch guests.  This was the first day that we started working the entire menu in two teams with two classmates as chefs in each kitchen.  Basically, the chef has to assign duties and make sure everything is on task.  I was tasked with the appetizer and one of the salted caramel desserts as there was a trio!

carrot flan

Carrot Flan with Arugula Salad.  Some of the flans stuck to the ramekins, but other than that, this dish was better than it looks (which is kind of like baby food).  It had a great texture and lovely carrot flavor, and was very light.  I was happy with the dish overall. 🙂

duck ballotine with lemon parsley farro

You guessed it…more duck.  Duck Ballotine which is deboned and stuffed, with a rich mushroom sauce.  It was served with lemon parsley farro, which I loved.  I pretty much only ate the farro.

trio of salted caramel desserts

Salted Caramel Trio, which included Mini cheesecake, a mini carrot cake topped with mascarpone frosting, and pecan pie squares.  I made the pecan pie squares, and they were so gooey and delicious!  The cheesecake was phenomenal, too, but it just didn’t have enough time to chill and set up completely.  Carrot cake?  Oh, I always love that.

I missed school on Wednesday, so I missed out on live lobster day and a Southern India demo.  At least I got to experience some of the lobster Tuesday afternoon during the demo.  My instructor killed the lobsters, cooked them, and made lobster bisque, lobster soufflé, and this salad:

lobster citrus salad

Didn’t she do an amazing job on this Lobster Citrus Salad?  I find lobster to be too rich, but this salad was light and citrusy.

I was back to school Thursday, which was another menu day.  I was working under another classmate, and I was assigned a dessert that had more components than ever…ugh.

cream of cauliflower soup with fried carrot

Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Carrot Chips and croutons.  This was a Thomas Keller recipe, and it was delicious.  I would go much lighter on the cream, but other than that, it was incredible.

I didn’t get photos of the main, which was sweetbreads.  I only ate the side dish!

lemon roll cake with lemon bavarian cream

Individual Lemon Roll Cake filled with Lemon Bavarian.  I thought my cake had come out really well, and I rolled it up with the lemon curd.  It didn’t get time to chill, so that made it look a bit funky.  The genoise cake was light and airy, but it just left something to be desired.  The bavarian had good flavor, but I actually botched the recipe (it was one of those days), and my instructor helped me fix it.  If it had had more chilling time,  it would’ve been better all around.  This was one tough dessert to crank out in a short time!

Thursday afternoon was a treat.  We had a chocolatier come and give us a demo on tempering chocolate, which is way too technical for me.  I’ll just dip my chocolate truffles in cocoa as mine are going to look gray. 🙂  He made some truffles, and brought some of the most beautiful red chocolate hearts from a chocolate shop called Feve in San Francisco.

chocolates from feve

Aren’t those gorgeous?  They tasted even better!  The chocolate shell was so thin, and they were filled with a liquid caramel sauce.  Bite into these, and they explode in your mouth.  I hear they’re expensive, and I could tell why…they were amazing.

Friday was a workshop in chocolate desserts.  My instructor brought some recipes from cookbook author Alice Medrich, and they all looked so good.  I chose to make the brownies with a shortbread walnut crust and whipped creme fraiche.  Something funny happened on this day.  Everyone that did the chocolate hazelnut torte and the brownies I did had problems with cracking, etc.  Come to find out, the recipe called for exactly 70% chocolate, and we all grabbed the Belgian baking chips that we always use.  Well, those are only 56%, which means there’s more sugar in them, which means more liquid in the dessert, which means dessert failure.  If we were to use 56%, we would have to scale back on the sugar so there would be less liquid.  I was happy there was an explanation, because if I’m failing on basic brownies, I’ve got problems!  It was a lesson well learned.


Here is one batch of the brownies.  I baked mine a lot longer, and they ended up tasting really good.  I will post them at some point because this recipe is a winner. 🙂

sesame tahini chocolate cake

This was a Sesame Tahini Chocolate Torte, and it came out beautifully.  I didn’t enjoy the tahini flavor in the dessert — it just didn’t ring dessert to me.

chocolate hazelnut torte

Here’s one chocolate hazelnut torte that came out pretty well.

chocolate mint sandwich cookies

Aside from the brownies, these Chocolate Mint Sandwich Cookies were my favorite.  They were like girl scout thin mints with a fancy mint white chocolate filling.  I’ve been wanting to make Homemade Thin Mints for some time, and they will be comin’ soon. 😉

And now, for the memorable tips of the week:

  • Are you a fan of lobster?  If so, and you prefer the claw meat, ask for a male lobster.  If you prefer tail meat, as for a female.  The males have the bigger claws and the females have the bigger tails.  It figures, right?
  • Lobsters should be purchased alive, which means you need to kill it yourself either by dropping it into a pot of boiling water and cutting it after it’s dead, or severing the spinal column with a knife right behind the head.  Cooking your own lobster is a gruesome job, but some people out there like it!
  • A lobster bisque is made with the lobster shells and not the meat…I had no idea!
  • Everything from the lobster, shells, cartilage, and all goes into the stock — just not the meat, of course.
  • If you’re in a hurry and you need to thicken up a dish like bisque, or a sauce, etc., use a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch mixed with water).  It doesn’t hold up as well as flour, but if you’re in a pinch it’s a huge time saver!
  • When working with fresh shellfish, never add salt until the end as there’s plenty of salt water from the ocean.  You just may not need any. 🙂
  • Vinaigrettes are more about the flavor than following a recipe — it’s personal preference.  Always taste your homemade vinaigrette with a piece of the lettuce that you’re serving it with for the most accurate idea of how it will taste in your dish.
  • This may seem like common sense, and it is, but when you’re cooking, really pay attention to how much of each ingredient you used, how long you cooked them, etc., so that if your dish doesn’t turn out, you can figure out why and fix it next time.  For example, did you cook the onions over too high heat and taste a bitterness in your dish, or did you overcrowd the pan when frying?  It’s good to make notes!
  • When making a dish that requires a sauce at the end, you can always reduce the alcohol and stock ahead of time and reserve it until you’re ready to make the sauce.  This is a huge time saver. 🙂
  • If you need chocolate that has a lot of structure for cake decorating or chocolate making, always temper your chocolate (raising and lowering the temperature of the chocolate).
  • Expensive chocolate doesn’t contain lecithin, so it won’t set up well without tempering.
  • Water is chocolate’s worst enemy, so make sure everything is completely dry when working with chocolate!
  • Never dip anything cold into chocolate — it must at least be room temperature.  The chocolate will end up with a dull surface because the cold interior will take the moisture away from the exterior.
  • The percentage on the package of chocolate indicates how much cocoa solids the chocolate contains.  The higher the percentage, the less sweet it is.  If a recipe calls for a certain percentage of chocolate and you don’t have it on hand, you must add less sugar or more sugar depending on the percentage of chocolate you’re using.

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and thank you for reading about my adventures at school.  Have a great weekend! 🙂


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