Cooking School Week 20

ferry bldg

This photo of San Francisco looks mighty different than the past few weeks, doesn’t it?  Yes, we’ve finally gotten some big doses of much needed rain!  I’ve really missed the rain, and I enjoyed popping on my rain boots, rain jacket, and walking to school in it — the air just smells so fresh and clean.  I’m loving the green hills, too.  This is the way it’s supposed to look this time of year. πŸ™‚

I’ve been walking to the SF Ferry Building from the train every morning to sit at Peet’s coffee to study for my upcoming exams.  It’s the ultimate place to hang out and study, as there’s a beautiful view of the SF Bay and the Bay Bridge.  The only problem is the view distracts me a bit — I love being by the water. πŸ™‚

I had a small case of the jitters on Monday because it was Improvisational Monday.  We had to prepare an appetizer from ingredients our instructor gave us with no recipes.  I felt prepared, as I’d memorized a good base of recipes, but still — you never know.  When I got to school I saw all of the produce on the counter, but I really didn’t want to go soup or salad if at all possible since I can make those in my sleep.  What I really wanted to do was make a gallette. πŸ˜‰

My instructor gave us a little break that day — she said she would let us pick our own two ingredients for the first time.  I picked butternut squash (surprise!), and fresh spinach.  We went around the table and talked about our ideas, and our instructor helped guide us if we needed it.  I told her I wanted to make a savory gallette with caramelized leeks, butternut squash, and I would serve it with a spinach-walnut pesto.  She told me to run with that idea.  Oh yeah, and she also told me I had to make a batch of puff pastry dough for the menu the next day, and I needed to do that first.  UGH!  Puff pastry dough is an incredible amount of work on it’s own.  I sucked it up and got going.

My gallette was the last appetizer to come out because I was rolling dough all day, but I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made.  I was really proud, and I will be posting this once I’m out of school!


Here’s a photo of it in it’s entirety (minus 2 pieces of course).


…and here’s the finished dish that I presented.  I wasn’t sure about the pesto because I’ve never made a spinach one before (the spinach was blanched) and the consistency was different than I was used to.  My instructor said she really liked it, and that was enough for me.  πŸ™‚  This was one of the busiest and most exhausting days ever, but I got through it feeling good about it.

Tuesday was a menu day, and my classmate was chef in the kitchen.  We had a very extensive menu with deboned and stuffed rabbit, which we had to make an essence with out of the bones, plus a stock.  Then there were puff pastry appetizers, roasted brussels sprouts, and a fancy chocolate cake for dessert.  The clincher?  Every single item needed to be started first, plus I was told to make chicken stock for the week.  We were really scrambling to get this meal done on time, and amazingly enough, it was.

onion tarte tatin

The appetizer was this Caramelized Onion Tarte Tatin, which was made with my puff pastry from the day before.  The onions were slow roasted prior to baking, placed in the bottom of the pan, then cooled before the puff pastry was draped over the top.  It’s so dramatic when it’s turned out, and it was delicious, too.

rabbit ballotine

Rabbit Ballotine with Forbidden Black Rice and Roasted Brussels Sprouts.  The rabbit was wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with ground pork and Swiss chard, with a delicious pan sauce.  I really enjoyed this meal — the rabbit pretty much tasted like chicken, and anything wrapped in pancetta can’t taste bad. πŸ™‚

chocolate cake

Devil’s Food Cake filled with Whipped Chocolate Ganache Frosting.  This cake is gorgeous, and the cake itself was so moist!  It was filled with chocolate ganache, too, but somehow wasn’t overly chocolatey.

chocolate cake2

Now that was a cake! πŸ™‚

Tuesday afternoon we had a demonstration on Modern Sauces by a Chef Jason Fox at Commonwealth restaurant in San Francisco.  He discussed using molecular gastronomy techniques, like foams and powders in dishes to present familiar flavors in a very creative way.  You’ve probably seen sous vide machines on television where the chefs cook food in bags?  That’s what goes on at Commonwealth, and I hear the dishes are extraordinary.

On Wednesday we had a workshop in modern cooking.  I’m definitely into the more traditional route when it comes to food, but I was looking forward to experimenting.  We got to play with our instructor’s vacuum packing machine below:

vacuum packer

We vacuum sealed baby carrots in a carrot juice with ginger, and other spices and cooked them in a sous vide machine in the bag.  Guess what?  It just tasted like a carrot!  I’m sure restaurants do much fancier things with food than we did, but we were unimpressed with our carrot experiment. πŸ˜‰

We made many dishes that day, and I loved several (probably because they were pretty traditional too).

salad with cheddar dressing


Endive Arugula Salad with Apples, Bacon and Creamy Cheddar Dressing.  That dressing was SO bad from a dieting standpoint, but SO good from a flavor standpoint.  I’d eat it every day if it wouldn’t affect my waistline. πŸ˜‰

avocado panna cotta

I made this Avocado Panna Cotta with Fresh Tomato Salsa, Chips, and infused Cilantro and Chile Oils.  This was divine!  It was like the fanciest guacamole you’ll ever eat — just smooth as silk and spicy, too.  The powders were made from the oils by mixing them with tapioca maltodextrin.  They were interesting, but they didn’t do a whole lot for me.  I was more than happy with just the panna cotta!

whipped goat cheese

The last dish I got a photo of that day was this Goat Cheese with Shitake Mushrooms, Beet Juice, and Curry Oil.  The flavors in this dish were so bright and complemented each other so well!  I absolutely loved this dish.

Thursday was a menu day with lunch guests.  We were waiting for a delivery of lobsters for our lobster risotto, and they never came!  A classmate had to run to Trader Joe’s and pick up some jumbo shrimp, which was hilarious.  The menu was great anyway. πŸ™‚

chilled pea soup

I made this Chilled Pea and Mint Soup with Fava Beans and Creme Fraiche.  I don’t normally gravitate toward cold soups or mint, but this was fresh and delicious.  The fresh fava beans in the center made it really special.

shrimp risotto

Lobster Shrimp Risotto.  Hey, I didn’t miss the lobster a bit!

apricot napoleons

Deconstructed Apricot Napoleon with Caramel Sauce.  This was one of two puff pastry desserts, and it was out of this world.

apricot napoleons2

The other kitchen made a traditional Napoleaon with Dried Apricots, which was just gorgeous.  I tried one bite, and it was lovely.

Thursday we had a demonstration on Danish pastry by our instructor.  She showed us step by step how to make the dough, roll it out, shape it, etc.  It’s a lot of work again, but Danish pastry dough is smooth and silky, so it’s much more forgiving when rolling out.  Here’s what my instructor made:

frances' danish

We tasted them, and I have to say they were some of the best I’ve ever tasted.  Bear claws, cinnamon-frangipane sticks and twists, and let’s not forget the cream cheese and jelly filled ones.  I normally don’t go for Danish, but these were mind-blowingly good!

Friday was “D” day —  DANISH!  I was excited about it, and we got our doughs done in a hurry because we had a big day planned.  Our lunch menu included Duck pasta, Cauliflower salad, Arancini, or fried shrimp risotto, balls, and we had wine tasting and review.  We barely got out the door on time!

danish day!

Here’s an aerial view of all of our finished pastries — it was almost disgusting how many there were — almost.  I would have enjoyed making them if we hadn’t been under so much of a time constraint, but that’s life at cooking school. πŸ˜‰

my danish

Here are my cream cheese-apricot jam pastries….

my danish3

…and here are the cream-cheese cherry jam filled ones…

bear claws

…and these are my giant bear claws!  We got to take TWO cake rounds full home, and we enjoyed them very much. πŸ™‚

Here are your tips of the week:

  • When freezing pie dough, roll it out slightly before freezing for quicker thawing.  Your pie dough will thaw in 15 minutes versus hours this way!
  • Any time you’re making a pan sauce with alcohol, stock, or juices, you can reduce them ahead of time in a separate pan, then when your meat has finished cooking, degrease and deglaze away!  Your sauce will be done in minutes.
  • As peas age, the sugars turn to starch so they’re less sweet.  Use frozen peas if you’re unsure of the freshness of your peas, especially in dishes where the peas are the star like the chilled soup above!
  • When working with fresh fava beans, use a peeler to peel the side of the outer skin.  Blanch in water for 2-3 minutes, then remove the outer skin completely before cooking completely.  If you cook the favas completely in the outer skin, they’ll discolor.
  • Whenever making laminated doughs like puff pastry, croissant, or Danish, use pure European butter such as Kerry gold.  The better the quality of butter, the better your pastries will taste!  These doughs are all about the buttah.

I didn’t have too many tips, as school is almost over and there’s so much review!  Thanks for stopping by and reading about my week at school. πŸ™‚



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