Cooking School Week 4

ferry bldg

I’ve been in school for a month already!  As the photo above shows, we’ve been blessed with gorgeous weather by San Francisco standards (or any city’s standards)!  SF normally gets mighty foggy, and a few days this week were, but overall it’s been sunny and clear.  Not for long, I’m sure! 🙂

After 4 weeks, I’m definitely more comfortable in the kitchen, and while I’ve improved, I’m working on becoming more efficient.  I’ve always heard to mis en place, or have everything chopped,  measured, and ready to go, but my teacher says no, that’s not effective time management.  If you have something that needs to get on the stove, get it on, and do the rest of your chopping and measuring  while the food is cooking.  Also, don’t measure things and put them in separate dishes unless you have to.  That creates more dishes, which equals more work.  So true!  Old habits die hard, but I’m working on them. 😉

Monday was pizza day, and we each made our own dough and (6) pizzettes with a variety of toppings.  It was such a crazy busy day that I was unable to grab any photos.  It was tough coordinating the pizzettes of 8 people in 6 ovens.  It was an all day thing to say the least!

On Tuesday we had lunch guests, and did they ever love the meal that we prepared for them.  We loved it, too!  I was assigned the pumpkin soup, which I was thrilled about.  You all know how I love soup. 🙂

pumpkin soup with porcini cream

Pumpkin Soup with Porcini Mushroom Cream.  I was skeptical about pairing mushrooms with pumpkin, but it was out of this world!  I wanted to take to that mushroom cream with a spoon and eat it right out of the bowl.  Amazing!

Chicken with bread salad

Chicken with Bread Salad.  Roast chicken atop a bed of arugula, golden raisins, and croutons.  The croutons soaked up all of the chicken juices.  Need I say more?  We finished off the meal with a caramel nut tart and caramel ice cream.

That afternoon we had a gentleman, Tom Worthington, from Monterey Fish Company in SF come and demo filleting fish and talk about seafood.  He was a master, filleting a whole Alaskan halibut before our eyes in minutes.  He cracked open fresh oysters and clams and let us eat some.  The oyster tasted like the ocean, and I actually enjoyed it.  The clam?  Not so much.  It was very metallic tasting.  I needed a cold beer after that!

Wednesday we tackled shellfish.  We were given the chance to gut and fillet a whole sardine if we wanted to.  Although I’m squeamish, I did it without acting too much like a girl.  I also got I was assigned mussels, which is something I’ve never worked with or really ever eaten.  I was happy with my dish — it was very fresh with a simple white wine vinaigrette, celery, and herbs.

mussels ravigote Mussels Ravigote (my dish!)

stuffed mussels Stuffed Mussels

oysters rockefeller Oysters Rockfeller (My favorite by far.  Put bacon and breadcrumbs in something, and I’ll like it!)

Weds. afternoon we had an Asian cooking demo by Julie Lee, who works with Martin Yan.  She’s the culinary director for a television show titled “Tastes of Asia”.  She’d come and cooked for us before and wowed us, so we knew she’d bring it again. She prepared Hot and Sour Soup for us, as well as the dishes below:

Crispy noodles with seafood and bok choy Crispy Noodles with X.O. Sauce Seafood and Bok Choy

salt and pepper chicken with spicy lime dipping sauce Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken with Spicy Lime Dipping Sauce.  This was out of this world good!

Thursday we had more lunch guests, and our menu was divine.  I was assigned Tenderloin Tips with Bordelaise Sauce, in which I needed to prepare a demi- glace sauce with red wine reduction and mushrooms to serve over the meat.  It had a lovely concentrated red wine flavor.  It was served with Duchess Potatoes, which are basically potatoes cooked and put through a ricer, mixed with egg yolks and butter, then they’re piped decoratively around a platter outside the meat.  It was gorgeous!  We also had Asparagus Maltaise, which was asparagus topped with an orange Hollandaise.  I’m no Hollandaise fan, but I actually liked this. 🙂  We finished off the meal with a gluten-free hazelnut torte with two sauces.

Tenderloin tips with bordelaise sauce and duchess potatoes  Tenderloin Tips with Bordelaise Sauce and Duchess Potatoes (I wish the photo was better!).

torta regina with vanilla bean ice cream and 2 sauces Torta Regina with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Two Sauces

On Friday, I had to do a verbal book report on Fernand Point and Paul Bocuse.  I’ve never liked public speaking, but this time I didn’t get the jitters too badly!  W also had soufflé day, along with a wonderful pasta and salad lunch as shown below:

penne with butternut squash, chard, and breadcrumbs Penne with Butternut Squash, Swiss Chard, and Breadcrumbs.  I’m so making this!

warm smoked chicken and red cabbage salad Warm Smoked Chicken and Red Cabbage Salad.

I was assigned a fruit soufflé made with pureed, cooked cranberries.  I had to keep reminding myself not to rap on the side of the bowl with the spoon and to spoon the soufflé into the dish gently so it wouldn’t deflate.  It was a success!  It looked like a giant, pink marshmallow.  I’m not big into souffles, but it was fun tasting all of the different ones.

souffle aux fruits  Souffle aux Fruits (cranberry).

I’ve rambled quite a bit, but take from it what you will!  Below are some tips from the week:

*  My teacher said to try and buy air chilled chicken if possible, such as Mary’s organic free range chicken.  Basically, Mary’s blasts cold air on chicken after slaughtering.  Common practice is to immerse the chickens in ice water, and to bleach them to make sure there’s no salmonella.  I don’t know about you, but that almost makes me want to become vegetarian!  Check out the movie “Food, Inc.” for more things you’re afraid to hear about. 😉

* You can tell if a fish is fresh if it’s slimy, has good color, and it’s eyes are clear.  If it’s a fillet, it should be moist and firm, and should not be sitting in a pool of water.  The smell is a huge sign, too!

* It’s generally best to steer clear of farmed seafood because it destroys the eco-system.  Salmon and shrimp are the absolute worst.

* Buying fish with the skin on is much cheaper, and the skin makes the fish much more flavorful during cooking.

* When preparing shellfish such as mussels or clams, if they’re cracked or broken, throw them out.  Always figure about 20% will probably need to be thrown out.

* It’s always cheaper to buy meat on the bone and debone it yourself.  High prices come from the butcher’s manpower!

* Ginger can be frozen and minced using a microplane peel and all when ready to use.  I loved this tip!

* When frying, if you place a chopstick into the oil and it bubbles, the oil is hot enough.

* Use only cold rice when preparing fried rice or the rice will be gummy.

* You can tell when vegetables like asparagus are fresh because they’ll be heavier as they’re full of water.  If they’re too light, don’t buy them!

And my favorite tip of the week…

** To melt chocolate the foolproof way, boil water in a saute pan.  When the water’s boiled, turn off the heat.  Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it into the water.  The chocolate will melt, and stay perfectly melted.  I’ve always heard to create a double boiler and never let the bottom of the bowl touch the water, but I saw this with my own eyes.  I’ll do it this way for the rest of my chocolate melting life.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

Marcie