Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm still full!

Last night’s menu included shrimp ravioli with a cream sauce and Madeleines for dessert. I am still full just thinking about it.

We started with the Madeleines. I’m sure you’ve seen them if you’ve ever been in Starbucks, they are those cookies that are shaped like shells. If you’ve never had one, they are sort of a cakey cookie, but they are baked in that shell pan (Madeleine pan) until golden. You make the dough and chill it, so it forms better in the mold, which is why we started with them. When they had baked, we put a lemon glaze on them. You can also dip them in chocolate, or make the cookie a different flavor by adding different extracts. They are very pretty, although a bit of work to get them in and out of the pans.

Then we worked on our sauce for the pasta. It ended up being a very flavorful alfredo-like sauce. While the sauce was cooking we rolled our pasta out and filled it with the shrimp filling to make the ravioli. Once the ravioli had been cooked, we added them to the sauce to cover. Both components were very good, but I would have liked the sauce better over plain pasta and a lighter sauce over the ravioli. I do need to practice my ravioli making, also. While good, they came out a bit too thin. Really bummed that I’m going to have to make shrimp ravioli again this weekend to practice. I can experiment with different sauces. May make some cheese ravioli, too and stick them in the freezer.

Tonight we get our tests back, both our written test and our scores from our practical exam, which we took last week. He said we all did well, so I’m anxious to see that. Also, we were all assigned a spice that we have to do research on and a 1,000-word paper. I have to research “cinnamon”. Do you think I should post pictures of Robert and Chris eating snickerdoodles, which are made with cinnamon?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A classic

Last night’s menu was Boeuf Bourguignon served with mashed potatoes and a pear tart.

When you think of French cooking, Boeuf Bourguignon generally comes to a lot of people’s minds. I think it was one of Julia Child’s classic recipes. It’s really just beef stew with copious amount of red wine in the sauce and then braised for hours to make the beef tender and the sauce bold. It was outstanding! We served ours over mashed potatoes with copious amounts of butter included. I think there was more butter in the potatoes than there was wine in the beef sauce. I’m not a huge mashed potato fan, but, I have to say, they were GOOD and served with the beef gravy, I couldn’t think of a much better meal. Egg noodles are traditionally served on the side of the beef, but we didn’t have time to make pasta last night, so we did the potatoes instead.

Because that wasn’t enough, we also made a pear tart. Sweet dough for the crust, topped with an almond filling and then poached pears on top. The filling makes a little soufflĂ© up around the top of the pears. So good! I may have to experiment with different seasonal fruits – can see using blueberries or raspberries or peaches. I’m sort of drooling thinking about it. I was thinking last night that a little amaretto whipped cream on top would compliment the almond filling and would complete the dish. It was a fun night, although a little rushed, because the beef takes so long to cook, but the results were worth it.

Wednesday’s menu right now looks to be shrimp filled ravioli and Madeline’s. He said he might throw in a salad for us, too. Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Saturdays are usually a little easier at school because we have 8 hours instead of 4, like during the week. It doesn’t mean we’re any less busy, but we do have a little more time, usually, to get things done. This past Saturday was pretty easy because we had already made two of the items before (the chef calls this “revisiting”). One thing I like about this class is it includes baking, too, so I feel like I will be well-rounded in my culinary skills when I finish, but I will also be a little rounder, because I have such a sweet tooth, I tend to eat the desserts, as evidenced by the two strawberry tarts that I ate over the weekend! At least they were eaten 24 hours apart.

Saturday started out with making a white veal stew (Blanquette De Veau Aux Champignon in French if you are wondering). I would compare it to a stroganoff, although you finish it with heavy cream, instead of sour cream. We used veal in class, but I made it on Sunday, too and used stew meat. It was just as good. What I liked about it compared to stroganoff was that you caramelize the mushrooms and the pearl onions separately, so while there are more pans, you have a lot of flavor in the finished dish.

We also made a potato-leek soup. We served ours hot, but if it were cold, it would be vichyssoise. These cream soups are incredibly easy to make, basically cooking the vegetables, blending to puree, returning to heat and adding some cream and seasonings. Probably good that I didn’t know about this before as I love soup and I shouldn’t eat too many cream soups. On top of the soup, we served a mĂ©lange of julienned leeks, carrots and celery, which had been wilted in butter. A nice first course.

In between that, we made a Pate Sucre, a sweet dough that is the crust to the strawberry tarts. We’ve made this before and I love this dough – it’s really forgiving and you can patch it up when it gets in the pan if it needs to be. To me it tastes a little bit like a sugar cookie. Once baked, the tarts are filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh strawberries and an apricot glaze.

After eating some of the soup and the stew, I couldn’t eat the tarts, so I did bring them home, although we’re not supposed to take food off campus, and had one Saturday night and one Sunday night.

There is a woman at work going through chemotherapy, and I’ve been hired by my group to cook for her. She’s requested just a few meals at a time, so I made a few meals for her yesterday, as part of my personal chef business. I did macaroni and cheese with a side of roasted green beans, a Dijon crusted pork tenderloin with a side of butternut squash with fresh sage and the veal stew, using the beef stew meat instead of the veal. I got a chance to practice the stew, which is nice and I made enough so I could put some in my freezer for lunches this week.

A new week starts. Word is that we are doing boeuf bourguignon tonight – the classic beef stew with red wine. Someone sent me pictures from our open house last week, so I’ll get those posted on here so you can see what we did. Lots of good food. Have a good week, everyone!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fileting a fish

Last night in class, we deboned (boned?) a flounder. It's a flat fish, so easy to feel the bones and there are no (or few) pin bones to pull out. I did ok - need practice, but it was the first time I've even seen it done. We lightly pan-fried the filets and topped it with a brown butter, lemon and parsley sauce and then topped that with demi-glace (really reduced veal stock).

Alongside the fish, we served duchess potatoes. These are basically twice baked potatoes, but piped with a star tip instead of refilling the shell and then baked off again. Good, but tasted like twice baked potatoes.

We also make English Pea Soup. I love peas, so I really enjoyed this. You add bacon flavoring to the soup, so it's a bit smoky along with the bright pea taste. It's a thick soup and mine ended up a bit too thick, but it was enjoyable and filling. Just need a little cup of it as a starter.

Nice to have an evening at home - have a little school work to do, but I'm home and can get to bed early. Expecting snow on Sunday - ugh! Guess it will be a good day to stay home and cook.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My first exam

I had my first practical, hands-on test last night. I was nervous going into it, even though I knew most of the items we would be preparing and had stayed home on Tuesday to practice.

When I got to the exam, we were told to prepare the items that we knew about, but also we had to do vinaigrette, which was not surprising, and also various cuts of vegetables. Cut size is important to ensure even cooking. I’ve heard of chefs coming through with a ruler to make sure they are all exact sizes. Luckily, I did not have that! We had to cut both carrots and celery in the 3 different sizes that he requested.
The other items on the test were: cream puffs (both the dough and the cream filling), hollandaise sauce, rice pilaf, boiled potatoes that have to be cut in a certain way called tournee (like a football with 7 sides). They should end up looking like this (mine only slightly did, a definite practice item for me). I’m not sure what the purpose of doing this is, other than looking pretty.

picture from

Like I said, I was nervous going into the test and I’m not sure my nerves ever went completely away until he tasted everything. There were a few things I did wrong, but he said they were fixable, so while I got points off, all was not lost. My worst thing was the cream puffs. I knew when I was piping them that they would not puff well, but at that point, I couldn’t fix them. He told me how to alleviate that problem in the future, so I’ll be making those again – people are going to get sick of me making cream puffs!

The highlight of the night was my rice pilaf. He tasted it and said it was the best one he had tasted all night. There’s a process to it (not just dumping rice and water into a pan and boiling it), but you also have to make sure you have the seasonings right. I guess I did – yay!

So, tonight is back to regular class where we will be learning new recipes, new techniques. I’m beginning to feel a little more confident in class that I can really do this!

The very odd thing about all of this is how many personal chef and teaching classes I’m getting asked to do! Where were all these people when I wasn’t gone from my house 18 hours a day??

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I conquered Hollandaise!

I stayed home from work today to practice for my practical exam tomorrow. We are making rice pilaf, tournered potatoes (tourner means that you have to cut the potato into 7 sides, looking like a football), cream puffs (the dough and the cream) and hollandaise sauce. The few times that I've made hollandaise, it has always broken or separated and after one failed attempt today, I finally got it right! Yay! Hopefully I will be able to do the same tomorrow night for my test.

In addition to making all my exam items, I also made some Thin Mint strudels - Thin Mints crumbs mixed with cream cheese and put inside of puff pastry. I had made puff pastry over the weekend, so I wanted to experiment with it. Well, it puffed alright! I think I didn't roll it out thin enough, but it made me laugh when I pulled them out of the oven.

There were one of two good looking ones, and I'm sure they taste good.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time Flies

Wow, has it really been 6 weeks since I posted last? I've decided I need to take more pictures (or any pictures!) of the things I make at home (usually reproduced from class). I have this nice camera, I need to remember to use it.

Class is going well, although it's overwhelming. Home cooking and cooking professionally are two very different things. I'm feeling a little better in class, but I still get a little bit of a nervous stomach every class day. My classmates are good, we are all in the same boat and feel just as overwhelmed. I'm glad it's not just me!

This past Saturday, the school had an open house for prospective students and also we could invite friends and family. There were about 150 people there and we made about 2,300 appetizers to feed them. I was paired with my classmate, Brian. He's young and works in a restaurant, so he's kind of used to the pace of the kitchen. He was a lot of fun to work with. The two of us were tasked with making three different items:
1) shrimp cocktail (shrimp cooked in a court bouillon of water, salt, lemon, pickling spices, white wine and white wine vinegar) with house made cocktail sauce;
2) Blue cheese spread canapes - blue cheese spread garnished with red grapes (quartered) and toasted slivered almonds. The blue cheese spread was on toasted brioche that we had made last week.
If you like blue cheese, pair it with red grapes, the salty and burst of sweet from the grapes is a wonderful combination.
3) Roasted pork belly confit with an apicius sauce. If you've never had pork belly, we've deemed it bacon's better cousin and you should try it. We skewered thick cuts of pork belly confit (essentially bacon), that we seared off and then topped with a raisin, apricot chutney (the apicius sauce). People loved them and they were the first item to go (even before the shrimp cocktail). The salty pork belly with the sweetness of the chutney was so good.

Other than that, I'm learning a ton in school - we've made everything from chocolate tarts to coq au vin to eggs benedict and we have a long way to go. My first practical exam is on Wednesday, where we will have to cook three items for the chef to taste - chef selects what we are going to make. We are graded on taste and presentation. A little nervous about it, but I can only do what I can do. I'm taking Tuesday off of work to practice.

I'll get some pictures up soon. Brian took some of all the platters that were made on Saturday, so you can see the spread. We had good reviews, but I'm hoping we haven't set the bar too high for ourselves!