Archive for the ‘Cooking school’ Category

Knives and Fire: Taste of Asia

July 11, 2011 1 comment

Oh, my goodness, I had so much fun tonight. Thursday night, my husband and I went out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant, we passed the housewares store that fronts my old cooking school, and we saw two things – a sign on the door advertising a “Taste of Asia” class for tonight and that it was open. So we walked in. The closed circuit tv showed that a friend of mine was taking a class upstairs, so we watched that until the owner finished his phone call, we asked who was teaching the Asian class.

Sure enough, it was my beloved Chef. And there was one slot left, so I took it. Then we walked upstairs to say hi to our friend – she was taking a knife-skills class – and left for dinner (beef kebabs, btw.)

Tonight, I took a clean apron and wore real shoes instead of the open flats I normally wear, and todays mostly clean jacket, and got on a bus to the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts. Where Chef greeted me with a shout of “Mama Deb!” and an enormous hug.

We made fairly standard Chinese food – egg rolls and spring rolls, dry-fried Szcechuan beef, fried rice, General Tso’s chicken and Korean marinated ribs.

The woman next to me decided that she wanted to make egg rolls and asked me to help her. I wanted to make the beef; Chef thought I should make the beef. I made the egg rolls. Which were basically the best cole slaw EVER mixed with mince chicken and duck, rolled in skins and deep fried. Shredded cabbage, shredded carrots (I got to use a mandolin for the first time. It was fun), slivered scallions, garlic and ginger powder, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar. Best cole slaw EVER. And then we learned how to roll egg rolls (and blintzes and wrap sandwiches). This is something I’ve never known, either.

And then we deep fried them. In a pot on the stove, using a thermometer to keep it between 320F and 350F. I don’t do that a lot, either. They were delicious.

But, to me, it was so nice for other reasons. I felt respected – by my partner, by Chef and by the owner of the school. They were happy I was there, they wanted me to come again, they knew I was competent, and it felt LOVELY.

All the food was yummy and I loved the szechuan beef, and my egg rolls were delicious, but for once the food was seccondary.

Categories: Cooking school

Knives and Fire Extra

February 23, 2009 1 comment

Here’s a picture Y took of me:

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Knives and Fire XXV – Final

February 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Written and Practical Finals

We began the class by everyone frantically asking each other questions that might come up on the test – well, not me. I’d read the chapters, and outlined them and, as Chef said, I’d been to all the classes and so I knew I was okay. And he’d assured us that the test would be doable – multiple choice and true and false.

We were to do the written test, plus three practical tests – knife skills, pico de gallo and American omelet. I was worried about the omelet, because to do it properly, it has to be flipped like a pancake, and I had yet to do it successfully. Fortunately, we could do each part as often as we needed.

We got ready for the test – I cut up parchment paper, and set up for blanching and shocking – a pot of heavily salted water put on to boil and a tub of ice water right next to it. G put the parchment paper on half sheet-pans and put the items necessary for the knife skills tests on that – we were to chop cilantro, julienne half a jalope&ntilda;o, small dice half a red onion, concassé two tomatoes, finely mince two garlic cloves, plus a julienne and bruniose each of half a carrot. We were to work clean and sanitary and show good hygiene skills.

The three women present did the written test first. When I finished and got a cup of coffee (which I wouldn’t drink for three more hours), I did the knife skills. I ended up doing my carrots three times because I didn’t like the first two. I also had to get an extra garlic clove because one of mine was in bad shape. What were my results? Everything passed except for the jalope&ntilda;o – I cut the strips too wide. He also didn’t like (and he was right) that I didn’t wash my board after chopping the cilantro. But those were the only down-grades and I was happy.

I recut the jalope&ntilda;os in half, and then I diced them up because the next item was the pico de gallo – mixing all the knife cuts *except* the carrots together, plus diced scallions, cumin, lime juice and olive oil, with salt and pepper to taste. We would be graded on taste and consistency. Since this mixture was too dry, I added strained juices from the concassé (no seeds, you see) and some tomato purée. I got every point for that one.

Then I made my omelets. Well, omelets. My first omelet (three eggs, some water and salt and white pepper)didn’t come out too well. Again, the idea is we flip it like a pancake. And while I managed to flip it, it didn’t flip evenly and some egg escaped the pan. (We had to flip the *pan*, btw, not use a spatula.) So I practiced flipping the remaining egg a couple of times to see how it would go, got another pan and more eggs and did it again. I put the teflon pan on the high fire and let it heat up – omelets need *hot* pans – and ladled in a little melted clarified margarine. Then I added the beaten eggs, stirring all the time with a rubber spatula. When they pulled away from the side of the pan, I loosened the bottom, banged the pan, tilted it and – perfect flip! All that was left was plating it. It wasn’t a perfect fold, though.

I garnished the plate with a thin slice of red onion, blanched julienned carrots and a twisted slice of lime, and put a spoonful of pico de gallo on top of the omelet (I got that idea from Y.)

Verdict? I had the pan hot enough to get a fluffy omelet, and it tasted good. The garnish was pretty and out of the box. It could have been folded better, so I didn’t get FULL marks, but I’m happy. Final score on the practical? 90.

I’m very, very happy.

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Knives and Fire XXIV (Week 7)

February 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Shabbos Cooking Day

Also, our last production day. I’m going to miss this so very much.

We began with a demonstration of a mandoline – a device used to slice vegetables evenly and quickly. Chef showed us how it made paper-thin rondelles, how it make juliennes, french fries, and gaufrettes (use a ripple-cut blade, fairly thick. Rotate 90 degrees each time. You’ll get slices that look like netting. Deep-fry for a garnish.)

Then we discussed our two menus – one for Friday night dinner; one for Shabbos lunch.

Striped bass in phyllo over a Veracruz sauce
Chicken soup with julienned vegetables and kreplach
Roasted vegetables
Parisienne potatoes and Potatoes Anna
Sweet and Sour Cabbage

The reasoning behind this meal is things that can be kept on a blech ( a sheet of metal placed over a very low flame), a low oven or on a warming tray, and will either not deteriorate in taste or taste better. The fish would be served cold.

Marinated snow peas in Orzo salad
Grilled dark meat chicken with orange glaze
Potato and Noodle kugels

These are items that should be served cold, or are dry and can be reheated *or* are meant to cook overnight.

I made the chicken soup, according to Chef’s recipe. First I cleaned all the vegetables by soaking them in water with a drop of veggie wash. And then I washed the chicken (we used two whole chickens, a couple of legs and some scraps from the grilled chicken) and put it in cold water to cover by two inches, and brought it to simmer.

This gave me time to peel the onions, the carrots, the parsnip and the parsley roots, and trim the celery – none of these would be cut any finer – and to bind the parsley and dill securely. By this time, the soup was starting to need to be skimmed, so I did that, mixing in cold water to make sure I got it all out. We wanted this soup crystal clear. I put in some white peppercorns, a tiny pinch of thyme, a single bay leaf, a couple of cloves of garlic and the vegetables – plus part of a bag full of small cuts of carrots. I let that simmer and began my thin, thin – 1/16th”x1/16th” by 2″ – julienne of vegetables. We used parsnip, carrot and sugar snap peas (purchased instead of snow peas.) Taking chef’s advice, I took my time with the knife cuts, putting the trim of the parsnip and carrot into my soup pot.

I took enough time that I tasted the soup and it was about ready. So I fished out the large vegetables, leaving the onions to simmer a bit longer, and the chicken, which I placed in a separate bowl, taking care to drain any juices to put back in the pot. Then, with D’s help, I strained the rest through a fine mesh china cap. I put three whole onions back into the pot and put it over a very low flame. Then I blanched and shocked my julienne – each vegetable separate, because they had different blanching times, but mixed after blanching. I discarded the soup veg, but put the chicken aside to cool. The chicken still had flavor.

Then I tasted the soup and added a bit of white pepper and a couple of handfuls of salt. And that was it. When I plated it, I first put in some mixed julienne, and then a large kreplach (made by G), and then ladled soup over it. I gave it a bit of a stir so that the kreplach wasn’t hiding all the julienne, and served it forth. It was so very pretty.

It came out delicious – people were taking cups of it and were also taking it home – *Chef* took some home. I’m very proud of it. It also pretty much took up my time.

I watched chef show how to use phyllo dough – keep it covered and moist until use,and then cover it with melted butter or margarine or oil. I watched G make perfect kreplach. E made noodle kugel with chives and baked them in muffin tins, and it was beautiful. L made delicious potato kugel. And Y – Y made the Friday night veggies, the sweet and sour cabbage and roasted root vegetables (in this case, carrot, beet and celery root.) M made the saurbraten, J and S made the fish, T, with the help of our visitor Gw, made the salad and the chicken and D made the cholent. D the assistant made the Pommes Anna and Parisienne. And it made the most delicious display.

After this, I took the soup chicken and shredded it with my very clean hands, and took a lot home to be made into chicken salad.

Monday, we have our final – a written test and a cooking test. Wednesday, we have our school food safety test. And that will be it. *sigh*

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Knives and Fire XXIII (Week 7)

February 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Custard Day

We began by talking about the week past – the breads we baked (and how a pinch of salt made a difference between very good and truly excellent) and the pastry cream and paté au choux we made, and how a convection oven made problems for the eclairs.

Then we talked about what we were to do on Wednesday – Shabbos cooking. Vegetables can make or break a meal, and we need to make decent veggies for Shabbos, such as sweet and sour cabbage or ratatouille, or the traditional tzimmes. And we need to get out of the rut of making the same meal every week. More than that, we need to know how proper planning and mise en place can make the whole thing work for all the meals one needs to prepare. I am very much looking forward to this class.

Then we partnered up and made chocolate mousse. I partnered with Y. Chocolate mousse is made with chocolate, egg yolks, sugar, egg whites and flavorings. First we made whipped topping in a stand mixer using a whip attachment. Then we cleaned off the bowl and whip and put in about five carefully separated egg whites (you do NOT want any yolk or other fat in the egg whites or they won’t whip up, so you take each egg, and separate it in two bowls and *if* the white is shell and yolk free, put it with the other whites in its own bowl.) We put in a pinch of salt, but also, and this was a mistake, 4 oz of sugar. We should have waited until the eggs were nearly mixed – we got a slightly grainy product. Not bad by any means, but not perfect.

Then we melted chocolate over boiling water, adding a bit to get the melting starting. The recipe called for Sambucco, but we chose to use vanilla extract instead. When it was melted and smooth, we mixed it vigorously with 1/3 of the meringue to lighten it. Then we folded the whipped cream (which we whipped again with a whisk) and the remaining egg whites into the lightened mixture until it was pretty much streak free. And it was done.

Then we made toiles – thin cookies that are shaped when warm. This took egg whites. We creamed margarine and confectioners sugar, added egg whites bit by bit (it looked curdled) and then sifted cake flour all at once. We scooped the toile dough onto parchment paper covered sheet pans, and spread them out, sprinkled sliced almonds on some, and baked them until they were brown on the edges. These were removed with an off-set spatula and placed in cups or over a rolling pin or rolled or…well, we had fun.

After that, we made crème brulé and crème caramel – the same thing, actually, because both of these are the same baked custard. One either puts caramel on the bottom of the ramekin before baking *or* sprinkles sugar on top after baking and puts it under a broiler or a blow torch. I did the mise en place for the custard itself – two recipes made separately. I put two pots of non-dairy creamer to heat, each a quart and a half. Meanwhile, I separated two dozen eggs (one for each recipe) for the yolks, to which I added a whole egg because we were using non-dairy creamer. The extra white makes a difference. I mixed both sets of eggs with 2 oz of sugar with a whisk. I also made sure the salt and the vanilla extract were ready.

Mix the hot creamer with a pinch of salt and some vanilla, and then temper the eggs – adding small amounts of hot creamer until the eggs are warm enough, and then add the egg mixture to the pot of creamer and combine. That’s the custard.

We had a bunch of ramekins. To some, chef put caramelized sugar with some corn syrup to stabilize it on the bottom. These were placed in a baking pan, and we added a cardamon pod, and the pan placed in the oven. There M ladled custard into each ramekin and filled the pan with water until it was halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I did the second roasting pan load, but mine were to be bruléed, so no caramel. I also had a couple of low, oval ramekins in mine, so I had to be careful about the water. These were all closed up.

I made the second batch of custard, and filled the rest of the ramekins (this time we used the pods) and put them in a second oven.

Since chef was melting sugar for the crème caramel, he also spun some. He placed a series of wooden spoons on our cooks table, handles out, weighed down with racks. He’d already mutilated a whisk by cutting off the end, leaving long, stiff wires. He added some orange food coloring to the melted sugar. Then he used the sugar spinner (the mutilated whisk) to, well, spin the sugar over the spoons to make long cobwebby strands that he gathered into an orange nest. Very pretty. He took the last of the orange sugar and made a brittle with sliced almonds, to be used as garnish.

We also baked the cookies we’d made and frozen last week – slicing them on to sheet pans with parchment paper. And two people combined bread trimmed and sliced into triangles with custard, chocolate and flavorings and made a lovely looking chocolate bread pudding. And then chef had fun with mousse, whipped topping, chocolate whipped topping , strawberries and toiles, creating many, many lovely plates.

What did this taste like? I have NO idea. I managed to not taste more than a piece of toile and of a couple other cookies – and I mean a taste. But I’m sure it was delicious.

We talked about how one can serve bread pudding as a budget dessert for a luncheon, or how word choice can make a menu item sell.

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Knives and Fire XXII (Week 6)

February 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Pastry Day

Welcome to all the people from the CKCA mailing! I hope you enjoy this.

We began by discussing our new schedule (the next two Mondays and Wednesdays, plus a test the following Wednesday.) We also learned that our final exam will be a practical – we’re to make pico de gallo (salsa) to show our knife skills, and then cook either a chicken or fish plus sauce. Chef will tell us which sauce, which everyone will make.

Then we did an exercise changing volume to weights using charts from The Book of Yields. I had fun with it, but then, I like doing things like this. Also, chef talked about how a chef in a hotel figures out how much to buy for a day, taking into account banquets and number guests and average number who dine in the hotel. We also discussed the chain of command in a hotel, which pretty much ends at the general manager.

After some housekeeping, we went to the heart of the day – pastry cream and paté a choux (cream puff paste.) We used lots of sugar and eggs to day, I’ll tell you that. Pastry cream is usually made with milk – we, of course, used Coffee Rich and/or soy milk in its place, as well as margarine instead of butter.

One thing to know is that in pastry, everything but the smallest quantities is scaled. “Everything” includes liquids – it’s a pound of water, not two cups even though they’re the same thing. Everything also includes eggs. Instead of so many eggs, it’s so many weight ounces of eggs. Weight is more accurate than volume, you see. So, pastry cream.

2 lbs of milk is brought to a boil with 4 oz of sugar and vanilla – either a bean or 2 tbls of vanilla extract. Meanwhile, 3 oz of whole eggs and 4 oz of yolks are whisked in a bowl with 4 more oz of sugar and 2 oz of cornstarch. When the milk comes almost to a boil, take it off the fire and temper the eggs by slowly adding the hot milk until the eggs are warm. Then add the contents of the bowl to the pot and, whisking all the time, heat until the mixture is thick and produces a bubble or two. Add some butter and cool as soon as possible.

I used soy milk – mostly standard sweetened soy milk plus a bit of vanilla soy milk to get the right amount. I did not adjust either the sugar or the vanilla, btw. And. It was perfect. I’m pretty amazed myself – everyone else was too loose or too tight or burned it. I thought it tasted cloyingly sweet, but other people liked it.

Then we made paté au choux. This dough is unique in that it’s actually cooked on top of the stove like a béchamel. I worked with G as my partner. We brought a mixture of water, margarine and salt to a boil, and then added bread flour all at once, off the heat. We then put it back on the heat and stirred until it pulled away from the sides and formed a soft ball. We transferred this to a mixer with the paddle attachment,and beat the dough until it cooled enough to add the eggs – the bowl warm to the touch, but not hot. We added the 1lb 2oz eggs (we used eleven) one at a time until about the end, when I added the last three at once. And it was, again, very good.

To use paté au choux, one uses a pastry bag – a large tip makes long strips for eclairs. One can also make puffs of whatever size. Use a smaller tip to make a paris brest – an inch thick circle – and the necks of swans. The body is made with an open star tip.

G tried very hard to show me how to use a pastry bag. I did get better by the end – the trick is to squeeze with the hand holding the top of the back tight. We made paris brest and puffs.

Chef then made a genoise – a sponge cake – in this case, lemon. Sponge cakes are leavened only by air and eggs. Many, many eggs. Over a pound of eggs. (Much like, now that I think of it, paté au choux.)

To fill the cream puffs and eclairs, he took pastry cream (mine!) and mixed it with whipped topping – one part cream, two parts topping. This is called “chantilly” cream. Add puréed fruit and it’s bavarian cream. We also had chocolate pastry cream – another recipe of pastry cream plus melted chocolate. He used a pastry bag to inject the cream into the eclairs and puffs, and he cut the paris brest in half like a bagel, and put cream between the halves. Meanwhile, he made caramel and an apricot glaze (melt apricot jam with brandy), and we still had the melted chocolate.

And he made swans – he cut the eclairs made with star tips in half lengthwise, and the tops in half again. He covered the bottoms with cream and crossed the tops over the cream. Then he dipped the top of the necks in chocolate and then stuck them in the cream – and SWANS.

We also used puff pastry (homemade, but not by us.) Well, chef did. He rolled out two long oblongs and docked them with two forks, to be made into napoleons. Then there was the Band of Fruits, or Parisian Band.
This is a dessert made with a base of puff pastry, with the long sides built up. The sides were both glued and brushed with egg yolk – the latter to make them shiny. This has to be done carefully because we wanted the center to puff.

Chef then spread a layer of chantilly cream on the base and added a thin lengthwise slice of the genoise cake between the built-up edges. He covered this with fruit – a row of thinly sliced strawberries in the center, a row of thinly sliced kiwi one side, and of mandarin oranges on the other. This was glazed with the apricot glaze and put in the fridge to harden a little. Then it was sliced the short way into thick slices. It was really beautiful. He also glazed strawberries just for pretty.

Then he took the tops of the paris brest, dipped them in caramel and then in pine nuts, and replaced them. He melted fondant and glazed the tops of the napoleons (rectangles of puff pastry layered with pastry cream.) Chef also mixed the melted chocolate with some fondant and sugar syrup. He glazed some eclairs with the chocolate, and drew lines of chocolate over the white glaze on the napoleons and zig-zagged them with a toothpick. He also made a zabaglione.

And then he said for us to fill and do things and have fun. And, well. Dessert is not my thing, but I managed to be sligtly creative – I took a too-thin paris brest and dipped half in chocolate and then in pine nuts. Crushed nuts would have been better, but it was yummy.

And then we cleaned up.

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Knives and Fire XXI (Week 6)

February 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Bread and Cookie Day

First, we discussed fish purchasing, where we figured out that there are times it’s more cost effective to purchase already dressed (drawn, scaled, head/tail removed) as opposed to merely drawn (just entrails removed.) It might cost more in time and labor to dress a fish on site than you’d save otherwise.

Then we moved to breads. We touched on types of leaveners (chemical and yeast), types of flours (high-gluten, bread, all purpose, pastry and cake plus rye). We were to make bread sticks, rye bread, garlic knots, white bread, French bread and foccacia – all yeast breads, some using all purpose flour, some bread and some high-gluten. And, of course, rye flour.

Y and I made foccacia. Foccacia is basically pizza dough. We proofed dry yeast in sugar and 90°F water, and, using a stand mixer, put in 1lb 2oz of weighed and sifted AP flour slowing until it started forming a ball. Then we added salt and onions as per the directions. This was placed in an oiled bowl and covered with plastic wrap and allowed to rise. (Chef took our baker’s rack (a metal rack which holds sheet pans as shelves) and turned it into a proofing chamber by placing a couple of cans of sterno on the lowest shelf, and a roasting pan of water just above it, and wrapping the whole thing in aluminum foil. It got up to 100°F, which is what we wanted.)

When it doubled (we went to lunch), it was punched down and put in an oiled half-sheet pan. Y pushed it until it filled the pan, and then we drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, oregano, kosher salt and black pepper, and then topped it with sliced tomatoes and onions. We then drizzled it with more oil and added more seasonings. This was put back on the baking rack, along with L’s foccacia, which used spices, oil and garlic. We let it rise until doubled and put them into a 350°F convection oven (recipe called for 400°F, but that’s a normal oven.) And we let it cook until it was risen and golden brown, and then they were let cool on the rack.

When we finally ate them – well, ours was delicious. No question. L’s was better. She used a bit more salt in her bread.

We had a lesson braiding challah – chef made a double one (a small braid on top of a large one.) Oh – we took all of the doughs after the first rise, in their bowls, and covered them with the same cover, and E took challah, because challah is both the braided Shabbos bread, and the dough removed from a large enough batch of bread (over 5lbs of flour with a blessing.) This handful of dough is destroyed, usually by being burnt in the oven. It used to be given to the Kohanim, but not anymore. We had much more than 5lbs, but once was enough.

And then, since our breads were either finished or baking, we made cookie dough. This, as you can imagine, was torture. I love cookie dough, and I can’t eat it! I wasn’t doing anything, but J and D had been asked to make a checkerboard cookie that used almond flour, and J is allergic to tree nuts. So I offered to help D. As I sliced up margarine to make it creamable, D assembled our two similar but not identical recipes – one for vanilla and one for chocolate. These would be assembled in layers, and then sliced and reformed to make checkerboards. D made the vanilla, and did it first, and I was to do the chocolate. D did fine, making a nice, firm vanilla dough. As for me – well. I got flustered and spilled a lot of the powdered sugar and then the entire container of four eggs, and, well. Because once you get flustered, you make all sorts of mistakes.

However, all was well, and I made a nice chocolate dough as well, for the first time in over a decade. Both doughs as well as a chocolate cookie dough – one with and one without nuts – were put in the freezer. Y made chocolate macadamia nut cookies using melted chocolate (I used cocoa) and they smelled heavenly.

We have the next two days off, but we’ll continue with pastry on Thursday. These days will be made up.

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