Cooking School Week 18

This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using our links. Please see my privacy policy for more details.


I paused at the top of the hill on my walk home to look at the beautiful view by my school.  I can’t get enough of these breathtaking views, and more gorgeous weather to go with it.  I’ve certainly lucked out with the weather during the 5+ months that I’ve been in school.  The drought that we’re in here in California has put a big damper on that, unfortunately!

This week was a big week.  Not that the others haven’t been — this one was just different.  Our instructor had us all turn in our own restaurant style menus to her, complete with 4-5 appetizers, entrees, and desserts.  The thinking behind it was to think about what we would serve if we had a restaurant, bearing in mind that we would have to create 1-2 items on our menu without recipes.  My problem was, I based a lot of my menu on meals I’d had at other restaurants, which meant that I didn’t have any recipes to go from at all.  It’s called improvising, which I do a lot — but it’s easier when you’re comfortable with the ingredients you’re using.  I wasn’t totally, but I thought I would be when I was finished. πŸ™‚

Monday was the big day to make our dishes, plate them, and present them.  I chose a little gems salad with roasted golden beet and blood orange salad and avocado shallot dressing, which I based off of my own Butter Lettuce Citrus Salad with Avocado-Shallot Dressing.  That was a no brainer, but with all of the components, it did present some problems for me being that my main dish had a lot of components, too.  Why did I do that to myself?  Probably because I always do these things to myself. πŸ˜‰  I chose to make a Braised Short Rib with Sweet Potato Polenta and Swiss Chard with Garlic Chips.  I made a Madeira pan sauce to serve with, and I was very happy with it.  I never work with short ribs, and these didn’t get tender enough in the amount of time I had…bummer!  I’d also only made polenta a few times, but I’d never added anything to it.  Surprisingly it came out really well with the addition of pureed sweet potato, and the greens were great too.  Overall, I was happy with the dish, and I plan to post it at some point in the future.  Here are my dishes:

beet salad

Little Gems Salad with Golden Beets and Blood Oranges with Avocado-Shallot Dressing.

ribs and polenta

Braised Short Rib with Sweet Potato Polenta, and Swiss Chard and Garlic Chips in a Madeira Pan Sauce.  I’m kinda craving this right now. πŸ™‚

Tuesday was a menu day, and I was assigned Chef of the front kitchen.  That meant I had 3 classmates assigned to my team, and I needed to give them duties for the appetizer, entree, and dessert, to make sure everything went out on time, and how the plate was going to look.  My style is never to micro manage, and I had a great team that didn’t need much managing at all.  I helped people that had very time sensitive dishes, and everything went smoothly and tasted great!

The appetizer was Tea Smoked Duck Breast with Lentils, which I can’t believe I didn’t get a photo of.  You all know I don’t like duck normally, but this was really tasty!  We placed a mixture of red currant tea, raw rice, brown sugar, cinnamon stick and orange peel in the bottom of a wok, and heated it until it started to smoke.  The duck breast was placed over a rack directly over it, and the heat was turned down.  It smoked only 10 minutes, then it was cooked normally and served over lentils.  I want to smoke other meats in this fashion for sure. πŸ™‚

monkfish braised with beans

Braised Monkfish with White Beans, Fennel & Tomatoes was the main course, and it was served with crusty bread.  The broth was heavenly with chills, saffron, and white wine.  I love eating dishes like this.

caramel pear turnover

Caramelized Pear Tart.  The pear was poached in a vanilla simple syrup, and it was serve in puff pastry filled with vanilla-caramel pastry cream.  It was served with a drizzle of caramel sauce for good measure, and was absolutely phenomenal. πŸ™‚

Tuesday afternoon we had a special treat — Chef Eric Tucker from Millennium restaurant in San Francisco gave us a demo on Vegan cooking.  Chef Tucker isn’t a vegetarian, although he eats that way most of the time.  His demo was so informative and it was amazing watching him work.  His dishes were very complex with multiple components and flavors, as vegetarian dishes need to be just that to be really interesting.  These dishes were just that — really interesting and full of flavor. πŸ™‚

shaved puntarelle salad with nori

Shaved Puntarelle Salad with Nori Vinaigrette and Green Garlic Chips.  The chef used nori, or seaweed, to give the vinaigrette umami.  I couldn’t get over the seaweed flavor unfortunately, but I loved the idea of this salad.

mushroom tartare

Mushroom Tartare with Truffle Soy Mousse, Citrus Tapenade, and Grilled Bread.  Anything with mushrooms and I’m there!  I loved the tapenade, and all this dish needed was a bit more salt.  It was delicious. πŸ™‚


Red Lentil Curry with Brown Basmati Rice Cakes and Cardamom, Shallot, Chile oil.  This dish blew everyone away — there were so many flavors and textures going on!  The curry was poured over the bottom of the plate, then the basmati rice cakes were placed over that.  The rice cakes had chopped dates and scallions, and I could have made a meal out of those. πŸ˜‰  It was then topped with fresh vegetables, pickled onion, and some spicy peanuts.  Heavenly!

On Wednesday, my classmates and I got to recreate Chef Tucker’s dishes, and I worked on the curry dish with another classmate.  We were hard pressed to finish as it had so many components to it, and we had to make our genoise cakes for Friday to boot, but we did it.  I can’t wait to make this dish at home.

Thursday was another menu day with lunch guests.  One of my classmates was the chef this time, and I was assigned the mussel appetizer, which I was excited about.  I really enjoy working with seafood!

la mouclade

La Mouclade, or Mussel Stew with shallots, saffron, and white wine.  This dish was so simple and fresh, and the saffron really took it over the top.

stuffed pheasant

Apple Stuffed Pheasant Breast with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Arugula.  Normally I’m not one to go out of my way and eat pheasant, but I cleaned my plate here.  The pheasant didn’t have a gamey flavor as it was wrapped in BACON, and it was stuffed with apples and served in a reduced apple cider sauce.  This meal was one of the best!

chocolate 3 ways

Chocolate 4 Ways.  Need I say more?  We had a brownie, which I made, and it was the best brownie ever!  Then there was a mini chocolate soufflΓ© with cocoa nib cream, a mini chocolate tart filled with ganache, dried cranberries, and nuts, and a whole wheat cocoa nib cookie.  All of these desserts was so delicious.

Thursday afternoon we had an Advanced Cake Decorating Demo by Rachel Leising, who also did a demo for us on holiday breads back in December.  She worked with Elizabeth Faulkner at Citizen Cake in San Francisco, and owned her own bakery for a few years before giving it up due to the very long hours.  She’s wonderful to watch, and she’s so down to earth and entertaining.  She made a princess cake for us, a white chocolate lemon cake, and a chocolate cake with a zaboyan marsala cream filling.  We had all been assigned a cake for Friday and baked them off on Wednesday, so I knew I was making that luscious chocolate cake.  πŸ™‚

cake demo2

Above are Rachel’s cakes, with the chocolate on the left, white chocolate in the middle, and the princess cake on the right.  The lemon cake was filled with lemon curd, and the princess cake was filled with raspberry jam, frosted with an Italian buttercream, and covered with marzipan.  The princess cake was just too foux foux for me, to I was so glad I had the chocolate cake!

Friday was Valentine’s Day, so the day started with one classmate bringing in a rose for each person.  So sweet!   We put them all in a vase until after school. πŸ™‚

vday at tante marie

My instructor assigned me as chef in the back kitchen again, so I was in charge of assigning duties to finish our paella lunch, as well as get my cake filled, frosted, and decorated.  It was so busy!  The paella had many components, and I had to cut my cake into 4 layers, soak each layer in a coffee simple syrup that I made, and make the zaboyan marsala cream filling to fill it with.  We barely got lunch out on time, but was it delicious!


This was my team’s paella, which included chicken, mussels, shrimp, and spanish chorizo.


The other team made this version of paella with chicken, mussels, clams, paquillo peppers, and peas.

Right after lunch, we had to frost our cakes and decorate them.  We had such a small amount of time, and we’d run out of some frosting by the time I was really ready to decorate the top.  I wanted to make a marzipan rose, but there just wasn’t time.  I did make chocolate leaves, and we had some roses that I used to decorate my cake.  In a pinch, I used my fresh rose to liven up my cake.  I wasn’t in the mood to be fussy, so it worked for me.

my cake

Here are some photos of the beautiful cakes:

cake aerial


cake day

We got to take them home, and mine was a bit damaged since I had quite a commute!  It still tasted fabulous.  Tell you what, soaking cake layers in simple syrup is the key to making a cake go from good to outstanding. πŸ™‚

And now, here are the tips of the week:

  • Always make sure buttercream frosting is at room temperature before serving, which is around 30 minutes depending on how warm or cold it is outside.
  • Set cakes up one day ahead to marry the flavors.  This includes soaking the layers in simple syrup, filling the cake, and frosting the cake.
  • Always use the bottom of your baked cake as the top of the cake as it is the most even, it’s nice and moist, and it’s less crumbly.
  • When using whipped cream to frost your cake, always under whip it.  As you frost the cake, you will be working the whipped cream.  If it’s overworked, it will turn into butter.
  • Always temper chocolate if you’re using it to decorate cakes to give it more structure.
  • Cakes can be frozen for up to a year!  Genoise, chiffon, and devil’s food cakes are the best for freezing.  Simply thaw out in the fridge overnight.
  • When filling a cake with jam, always pipe a border of whipped cream or buttercream around the outer edges of the layer to keep the jam from bleeding out.

That’s it for this time.  Have a great week! πŸ™‚


Sharing is caring!