Cooking School Week 5
I’ve just finished Week 5 at cooking school, and I’m not at all tired of spending time in San Francisco. Yes, most of my time is spent inside the school kitchen, but I spend 40-50 minutes each day walking to school from the train station and back. I said it last week and I’ll say it again — we’ve been blessed with phenomenal weather. I’m so enjoying my long walks, soaking in all the beautiful fall leaves, the San Francisco bay, and so many other sites. The photo above is of Coit Tower, which is atop Telegraph Hill, and is an emblem of the SF skyline. It’s named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, who died in 1929, leaving money for the city she’d always loved. The funds were used to build Coit tower, which provides 360 degree views of the city and bay and it’s magnificent bridges. I’ve never been, and I’d really love to visit the tower and bask in that view!
Monday at school was egg day. I know, it doesn’t sound too fascinating, but I was excited to learn how to poach an egg properly. I know, I know…I shouldn’t have to go to cooking school to learn how to poach an egg, but we learned a lot about eggs in general as well — not just cooking them. For example:
- The color of the shell of the egg is determined by the breed of chicken, not how it’s raised.
- The color of the yolk is determined by the chicken’s diet. If it’s grass fed, the yolk will be a darker orange.
- Dyes are sometimes used to make egg yolks darker orange.
- The freshest eggs will have an upright yolk, firm white, and minimal runny white. The older the egg, the more runny the white is, causing spread.
- Have you ever noticed when you hard boil an egg that there’s a large area of empty space or a gap? That’s the air pocket, and the older an egg is, the larger that pocket becomes.
- You’ll often see a blood spot in an egg, and while it may be unappetizing to look at, it’s not harmful. 🙂
We made amazing omelets by shaking the pan and rolling them out, a la Julia Child’s method. It wasn’t easy. The French way is to produce an omelet with no browning on the egg. That was a tough fete — all of my omelets had some color. 🙁
The best egg dishes were the ones I got photos of. They were also two of the best dishes of the week in my opinion:
Salad Lyonnaise — frisee and curly endive warmed in the vinaigrette over the stove top with lardons and bread crumbs. The topper? My poached egg. 🙂
Mini Eggs Benedict — an appetizer like no other. I’m not a hollandaise fan, but this had a minimal amount of the sauce and was absolutely divine. I stopped myself at two.
Tuesday we had lunch guests and pulled out all the stops. I didn’t get to make anything really fun that day — a humungous pot of chicken stock and a rustic French green pea side dish. We enjoyed stuffed cornish game hens, potatoes, salad, and a medley of sorbets such as pink grapefruit with champagne, pear sherbet, and the cranberry sorbet, which was my favorite. I didn’t get photos of those dishes, but I did get a couple:
Hot Parmesan Canapes, which is basically like artichoke cheese dip but this didn’t have the artichokes and it was baked atop a toasty, buttered bread round. Rich and scrumptious!
Rolled Almond Cookies. Think English toffee or Almond Roca in thin wafers. They had such a lovely caramel, nutty flavor.
Wednesday was the BIG day. We each got our own giant red snapper fish — the whole kit and caboodle. We were shown how to filet the fish properly without puncturing the belly, and produce to boneless, skinless filets. Our two filets would be used to make two fish dishes, which would be our lunch. My lunch was riding on my doing this correctly. I was happy with how I did, and it wasn’t bad…except for that fish’s big eye staring at me the entire time.
This was my Snapper en Papillotte (parchment). It was utterly delicious with a splash of beurre blanc sauce and the rice pilaf I made.
This dish was my Filet of Solve with Potato Scales with Red Pepper Sauce. The potato slices were done paper thin on a mandolin, placed over the fish to resemble scales, and fried in clarified butter potato side down. Mine doesn’t really look like scales, but you get the point.
Our teacher made this Roasted Whole Red Snapper with Brown Butter Vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was mixed with capers, scallions, and parsley. This was so delicious!
We had a demo Wednesday afternoon on Mexican cuisine, which was so informative. I have tips below!
Thursday we had more guests. I was assigned French bread, Coffee granita, and Chocolate Sable cookies. Even though the granita had coffee in it, I’m just not into shaved ice desserts (yawn).
This Homemade Spaghetti with Mussels, Scallops and Shrimp was a wonderful pasta dish — so fresh with a simple, rustic tomato sauce. I’ll be making this!
Hands down, this was one of THE best desserts I’ve ever had. Coffee Pots de Creme is basically like a custard, and it’s texture was SO creamy. The coffee flavor with the chocolate in the custard was perfection. The Chocolate Sable cookies, otherwise known as Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies, were the perfect accompaniment. I’ll be making this, too. 🙂
Here’s my French bread. The best part? I got to take a small loaf home!
Friday I played chef for the day….we all take turns on Friday. Everyone in my kitchen had to help make a lovely autumn stew or rustic soup for our lunch, plus a batch of pastry dough for either a fresh fruit tart or tart tatin. I chose the fruit tart, and I had a lot of fun with it.
Butternut Squash, Pepper, Chard, and Hominy Stew. I thought it was more like a soup, but it blew me away. It had warm spices like cumin and ancho chile powder. I was skeptical of the hominy as I was never a fan, but it really made this dish.
Here is my fresh fruit tart! The crust was nice and flaky, but the sides sloped inward a bit, which meant that I didn’t tuck the dough into the corners and sides of the pan well enough. Next time!
Last, but not least, this is one of my classmate’s Tart Tatin. Caramelized apple upside down pie is how to describe it. It’s dramatic when you flip it over, it’s delicious, it’s beyond words.
Tips of the week:
* When scrambling eggs, add milk to make them soft and tender.
* The longer you cook an egg or egg dish, the stronger the egg flavor. Egg will taste “egg-y” and appear curdled.
* Unless otherwise specified, use large eggs for every recipe.
* Fresh whipped cream can be re-whipped….egg whites cannot.
* Adding brown butter with oil to a vinaigrette is absolutely delicious according to my instructor!
* Soak brown rice in water overnight to speed up the cooking process the next day.
* Always season rice well in the beginning when added to the water, not at the end.
* Use a wider based pot when cooking rice as a smaller pot won’t evaporate quickly enough and the rice will overcook.
* If rice isn’t done and all the water is absorbed, boil some water and add it to the pot.
* Never stir rice! Use a fork to fluff it once it’s cooked.
* The lighter green the chile pepper, the hotter it is.
* Seeds don’t have to be removed when adding chiles to dishes — just use less chiles to make up for the added spice.
* When using dried chiles, the soaking water used to hydrate them can be added to salsas to impart more flavor.
* When tomatoes aren’t in season, use tomatillos instead in salsa. Just pickle with lime juice and salt with finely minced garlic and cilantro!
* Don’t throw away cilantro stems when using it. Chop it, stems and all, as the stems have the most flavor.
* Use sugar or milk/dairy to remove or balance out heat. Mexican cuisine uses dairy like crema or queso fresco, while Indian cuisine uses sugar like chutney to balance spicy dishes.
* Combining different chiles in a sauce will produce a tomato flavor even if no tomatoes are used.
* Always pre-bake pie dough (blind baking) when baking pumpkin pie so the bottom crust is not doughy even if the recipe doesn’t say to.
Have a great weekend everyone, and thanks for stopping by!