Life Outside My Cube

My life, a work in progress.

Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cooking Class, Week 2

Chicken stock tonight. We arrive just a few minutes late, and the rest of the class is already in the kitchen. I guess there wasn’t any lecture. Too bad.

Chef has just cleaned a bag of white beans, and set them on to boil. Note: remove the stones.

In the mean time, Chef will demo chicken butchery. We’ll want the breast/thigh pieces for dishes tonight (chicken pot pie, cream of chicken soup), and the rest for the stock (which will also flavor bean and ham soup).

He demos the removal of the breast – long strokes along the breastbone, letting the sharp knife do the work, until the breast is free, then cutting off the thigh from the carcass. Pinch the leg joint to find the area where the soft cartilage is, then cut there to separate the leg from the thigh. Breast/thigh on a pan, leg in the stock pot. Similarly cut off the wing parts from the carcass and put them in the pot. No one else volunteers right away, so I jump in to duplicate his technique – this looks so easy! It isn’t, but it’s a lot easier than the hacking I usually do. The remaining carcass – minutes the inside bits – goes into the pot too. Good tip: cutting through the cartilage; dissecting a chicken is easy! Chef makes a case that buying a whole chicken is cheaper. I later find that Giant Eagle sells breast/thigh pieces significantly cheaper than whole chickens. Go figure.

Though he distinguished between stock and broth last week, we throw in bones and meat. We also add mirepoix, though not as much as for veg stock. A couple bay leaves and again, on the stove to boil. We season the breast/thigh pieces and bake until lightly browned, then cool and rough chop.

More prep this week for the dishes – different herbs, different veg, though again different than the recipes Chef hands out. We dice several of potatoes for the pot pies, then sautee in butter. Note: don’t stir, let them brown! Add veg and sautee some more. When done, add some broth and roux, and cook until pretty thick.

When beans are done, drain and add chicken broth, and diced smoked pork shoulder. Some herbs, probably, and not much seasoning. Let it cook for a while.

Chef pulls out pre-formed pastry shells from the store (!) and fills them, reserving some of the veg. Then pulls out pre-rolled pie dough and drapes over the top – not even bothering to trim or tuck the edges. It’s all about the taste, not how it looks, he says. I disagree inside. Pies go into the convection oven.

We remove all the chicken parts from the remaining broth, and pull off all the meat. This goes into another pot for a quick cream of chicken soup made with the leftover pie filling. Fortified with broth and thickened with milk and a little roux, this soup is thin, and doesn’t have the hearty taste you’d expect from a cream of chicken. I don’t have any.

The pot pie is tasty. The bottom crust is quite dry (good) and the top is flaky (good), but I wanted the interior to be much more saucy. I wanted to pour some of the cream of chicken over the top.

Bean soup is good too, though the beans could have benefited from an overnight soak, I think; they were a bit too chewy for me. But the flavor was quite good – that smoked pork added a lot. I’m sure the chicken broth added depth as well.

Pretty much the only think I took away from tonight was the chicken butchering tips and practice. There wasn’t as much evidence of deepened flavor profile based on the broth like there was the week before. I’d made a veg soup at home last weekend – making a veg stock, straining, then adding more veg and water, and it was delicious – very intense veg flavor, much more than a regular vegetable soup made with just water. Highly recommended.

Since I’m still blogging, you can conclude that Nancy and I decided to stick it out (plus, it was too late to get a refund) in hopes of bringing home a few tips, and just cooking!

Though using the term “we” makes it sound like all of us in the class were participating, in reality 12 is too many in the kitchen, and there’s rarely room for more than 2 at the stove. Quite frustrating, that.

We finished around 9, and sat around talking. Chef recommended that we not pursue cooking school – first because of the cost, second because he thought you could get the experience you need as an apprentice somewhere. He didn’t seem to take much interest in the technical aspects of cooking (a la CIA), and even mentioned some fat book “On Cooking” he doesn’t use. I think he meant, “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, a classic and perhaps one of the top 5 books chefs regularly recommend. I take Chef’s advice with a large grain of salt.


Cooking Class, Week 1

This week – vegetable stock and derivative recipes. We spent all of 15 minutes in lecture, though even that could have been pared down to 5 minutes. Chef is a very slow speaker! My first impression is that he’s not going to be the dynamic teacher I was hoping for. I overhear later that he retired from cooking over 10 years ago, because he was tired of the “pressure”. Well, he certainly slowed down!

We covered some brief safety rules and a very quick intro to stocks and sauces (all of which we knew). Then in the kitchen, we wash up and watch Chef prepare the vegetable stock. Of interest – he didn’t wash any of the veg! He used the outer skin of the onions (for color), didn’t peel or wash the carrots or celery. No mention of ratio of different veg (by volumn, should be 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery) or veg to water; we simply added water to an inch or so above. Also, since class time was limited, he put the stock pot on to boil. Classic stock should not boil, only simmer, but he said boiling was ok (why?). Note: rough chop. Added 2 bay leaves.

Looks like the idea will be to prep a certain kind of stock each week, then prepare a couple dishes using the stock. This week it’s tomato soup and cream of mushroom. Chef provided recipes for the stock, two soups and something else, but never referred to them at all during class, and took grand liberties with the ingredients and method. He wants us, I think, to be able to construct dishes by feel, rather than being bound to a recipe. This is a good thing.

While stock was going, he briefly discussed/demo’d a blond roux, then had 4 teams of 3 prep a 2Tb blond roux. Important: cold roux to hot liquid, and vice-versa. We let the roux cool.

Briefly talked about the sugar/acid content of various tomato products (paste, whole, sauce), and 3 types of salt (sea, kosher, iodized) and when you’d use them. I disremember what he said, and will need to ask in a future class.

Tomato soup had stock base, used canned chopped tomatoes, salt & pepper, milk, that’s all I remember. Used an immersion blender on the tomatoes. Very simple, and tasted quite fresh, though some didn’t like the “graininess” of it. Well, yes, compared to canned cream of tomato. I liked it better. Maybe could have used cream to thicken a bit more, and fresh basil.

We reconstituted some dried mushrooms, and sauteed others. Sauteed diced onions and some diced celery in butter – Chef loves butter – then added stock and all our roux to make a sauce, then added more stock and mushrooms to make the soup. Seasoned. Excellent.

So very simple soups, but lots of flavor. Veg stock was a lot simpler than I imagined.

But we didn’t feel like we got a tremendous amount out of the class. Chef was not the kind of teacher we wanted, and the content of the class was decidedly not technical. May need to discuss whether to carry on.

Cooking Class, Introduction

Nancy and I decided to take a short class at a local vocational school called Soups, Stocks and Sauces. The class description read,

Discover the wonders of fresh homemade soup. A hands-on approach of how to prepare fantastic seasonal soups. This course will teach the classic methods of making stocks, as well as how to produce exceptional sauces. Students will develop the skills to cook with confidence.

We were hoping to put some “feet” on our head-knowledge of stocks, and to kind of test the waters a bit. At some point, Nancy would like to attend culinary school, and we thought this would be a very small first step.

The school has a culinary arts program, and the high school students even run a small lunch restaurant each day, so we knew it would be a commercial kitchen with all the tools, so we were pretty excited about it.

We also were hoping to rub shoulders with a chef who was interested in really getting into the nitty-gritty of cooking and cooking science. The teacher is an Executive Chef – no idea what that means at the moment, but it sounds impressive.

Unfortunately, class was cancelled the first day – guess the Chef couldn’t make it – so we’ll have to wait. On the upside, we were promised an extra week.