Skip to content

Fine Cooking I, Day 3

December 7, 2010

Our third class was predominantly a cooking in liquid class. We talked a bit about braising, or cooking partially submerged in liquid, covered or uncovered, stove top or in the over.

You have you white braise which means you do not caramelize the product first, and a brown braise where you sear or saute prior to braising. You can’t really overcook on a braise so you can be a bit more lenient with timing. You just have to be careful your liquid doesn’t evaporate.

We braised lamb shanks, osso bucco style. First they were salted and peppered and seared a few minutes per side over a high heat. Then a standard mirepoix (diced carrots, celery, and onion) were sauteed in the lamb’s fat until brown. The recipe called for juniper berries, who’s flavor you can also get by tossing in a shot of gin. We then deglazed the pan with some wine and added rosemary, veal stock (or just use more red wine if you don’t have veal stock on hand), and tomato paste. Then put the shanks in the liquid, on the mirepoix, and braise away in a 325° oven for a few hours. Turning once. The goal with braising meat is to get the internal temperature to around 175° and maintain that for 1 to 2 hours. After the lamb is done set it aside, covered to keep warm, and strain the liquid, squeezing as much juice as you can out of the vegetables. Then reduce the liquid, skimming the surface, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Coat the lamb shanks in the pan, and enjoy.

For our white braise we used leeks. To clean them you peel away the outer layer then slit, almost to the root, into quarters before washing off the dirt. Place the leeks in a skillet or baking pan, add liquid, butter, and seasoning. Then bring the broth to a boil, reduce to simmer and braise for 20-30 minutes or until tender.

We quickly steamed up some mussels. They were super tender – Richard said he thinks most people tend to overcook them. After washing and rinsing the little guys we boiled then simmered for 2 minutes a pot of white wine, shallots, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, butter and garlic. Then turned the heat to high, added the mussels, and cooked for about 3 to 5 minutes or until they opened up, shaking them around a bit, crab-style.

Possibly the highlight dish of the night was a simple warm lentil salad. We put the lentils, a whole onion studded with cloves and a bay leaf in a pot. For ease of removal, shoving the clove through the bay leaf into the onion helps. We added the water and salt, brought to a boil and then simmered, covered, for 25 minutes or so until the lentils were al dente and the water was mostly absorbed. The lentils were transferred to a bowl and we tossed them with oil, vinegar, minced onion, garlic, parsley, chives, and red pepper.

Our endive salad was quite nice as well. Endives will oxidize, so keep them in the fridge or on ice until you’re ready to work with them. We peeled off the outer layers then halved each and cut the base out in a V which then frees all the individual leaves. The vinaigrette we used replaced some of the oil with an egg yolk, which makes for a thick delicious dressing. Just need to keep it refrigerated.

Dessert was a chocolate mousse. Not my favorite, but good to know how to make. The melting chocolate technique involved plopping the chocolate chunks in a metal bowl and setting it over a simmering pot of water, making sure the water does not touch the pot and the just leaving it alone. Remove that once melted then whisk the egg yolk and sugar over the simmering water until thickened and lightened in color. Then remove and whisk until cool. Whip heavy cream until soft peaks develop – this is “underwhipped” which you should always do when you have a secondary use for the cream, in this case folding it into the chocolate and savionne (egg yolk and sugar ribbon). Pour the mixture into the serving containers, let set for 20 minutes, then cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and continue to refrigerate.

And thus concluded another delicious and entertaining Monday night.


Fine Cooking I, Day 2

November 30, 2010

Another excellent, if slightly more frantic, cooking class was had last night. On the first night we were more or less spoon-fed what to do, what bowl to put something in, what each step in the recipe was, etc. This time, it was significantly more on us to keep things moving. But no one actually told us that so there was a lot of confused standing around as we all figured out we just needed to pounce.

Lots of great tips from Day 2. We focused on roasting and baking; roasting meaning to cook to brown and baking to cook to golden. First up were some chickens. We made up another compound butter with rosemary and proceeded to trim the butt off the bird, cut away excess fat, and break the breast skin away from the sternum and legs. Then we shoved an extraordinary amount of butter under the birds skin. Seriously on the order of two sticks of butter per bird. Then we tied her up:

  1. Loop the kitchen twine
  2. Make a slip knot around the drumsticks, cross them and pull the knot tight
  3. Pull the twine in between the legs and separate the two ends into reins
  4. Pull the twine down hugging the side of the bird against the drumsticks
  5. Flip the bird and pull the twine across the bottom
  6. Flip the bird back over, pull the twine up along the wings and tie it off, keeping the wings close against the body

That was it, and she was already for roasting at 350° for an hour or so until an internal temperature of 160°. Then they should rest for 10 to 20 minutes.

Proper carving was another great lesson. First, you remove the leg by pulling it away from the body and cutting away the connecting flap of skin. Then, resting the flat of the knife against the leg you gently cut following the line of the leg. Cutting, not sawing, by just gently pulling the knife towards you, lifting the blade, and continuing. This will lead you directly to the ball-and-socket joint on the leg which you can easily separate with the knife

Next, you find the breast bone and start cutting downwards on one side or the other. When you hit bone, use the carving fork to pull the breast meat away from the knife and angle the knife inwards towards the breast bone and continue cutting down. This will eventually lead you through to the wing joint, which you easily separate. Repeat for the other side and you have a beautifully carved roast.

We also made a delicious and simple soup. We first chopped a mirepoix, a standard french stock/broth/soup base of carrots, onions, and celery. These were sweated (gently heated, not allowing for browning) until soft, then the broth was added and brought a boil. We then put about a 1/2 cup of arborio rice to let it release its starch and impart a nice viscosity to the soup. Served with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of parmigiano it was delicious and would make an excellent base for tortellini en brodo, etc.

A simple rice was on the menu as well. Here we learned the true technique for great rice is to toast it first, stirring, until about of 1/3 of the grains turn an opalescent milky color and release a popcorn smell. Then, with 1 1/2 cups of water to each 1 cup of rice, cover and let cook for about 20 minutes or until the steaming becomes less vigorous.

A salad was necessary to offset the 12 pounds of butter in the chicken. We had some baby spinach and made a simple vinaigrette to which we added curry powder which was toasted for 30-60 seconds (until fragrant) on the stove. Not satisfied with a healthy salad, we also needed some crispy bacon and mushrooms. Taking a slab of bacon, we cut it into thick ladróns. These we threw in a pan and covered with a bit of water. The water heats and helps render a good amount of fat without burning it. The bacon can then cook comfortably in its own fat once the water has boiled off. After the bacon crisped up a bit we dumped the mushrooms on top to cook in that lovely bacon juice (aka fat) stirring occasionally until perfect.

The last dish for dinner proper was a stuffed baked tomato. Again taking beefsteak tomatoes and cutting along their circumference, we seeded them and gently stuffed them. The stuffing consisted of bread crumbs, basil, time, scallions, and garlic. These baked for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Over-baking would cause the tomato to break down and become mush.

Oh, one last piece which was a delicious addition to the soup. We roasted a head of garlic. Very simply, just cut the top off the garlic, wrap in tin foil, and roast for 20-30 minutes. This breaks down the enzyme which causes garlic to stink, and leaves you with an unoffensive sweet garlic. You can store these under olive oil and use the then fragrant olive oil as well.

Dessert was a clafoutis. We made these delicious baked desserts four ways – with cherries, blueberries, apples, and pears. A simple batter of eggs, cream, flour, sugar, and vanilla is poured over the fruit and baked until golden. Also about 20 minutes.

Altogether, dinner was excellent and we brought home some more super useful cooking tips. Can’t wait to get busy with the homework!

Fine Cooking I, Day 1

November 23, 2010

First, I want to note that 11/23 marked 19 months. When I first started this, Twenty Months seemed like such a long time. But its not. Time is such a strange thing, simultaneously so long and so short, so endless and so fleeting. Here we are already in the teens, and surely the single digits before we know it.

In any event, the first day of the cooking class was excellent. Richard Ruben, our instructor, is a funny yet strict presence. He made the four hours fly, is very engaging, and obviously knows what he’s doing. After an introduction we talked about what we had in store for that class and got to it.

We would make a tomato soup, a simple salad with a vinaigrette, seared lamb chops with an herb butter, sauteed broccoli, sauteed potatoes, and a dessert of orange sections macerated in Grand Marnier. Certainly all things we could have made on our own, but again that wasn’t quite the point of the class. We definitely took away some useful pointers.

First, we spent a significant amount of time chopping, dicing, and bruoise-ing. This knife skills aspect was a huge help.We both thought we could chop just fine, and after watching a YouTube video of how to dice an onion we considered ourselves Oh so experienced. Learning and practicing the brunoise method has officially made us masters. Ha.

Moving on to sauteeing it was quite useful to learn to just get a dry pan good and hot before dumping your product in, then pouring the oil over. This helps with splash back, especially when using wetter foods. We also learned the, seemingly obvious, tip of when serving a number of pieces of meat to be sauteed, such as our lamb chops, just sear them all for a quick 30 seconds a side and then finish them in the oven at once to serve. On our lovely cubed potatoes, after you throw them in the hot pan and pour on your oil, just let them be – the constant stirring and messing around is what causes them to break down and turn to mush.

The butter was simple, chopped herbs, salt, pepper, mush around, roll into parchment paper, twist to squeeze out air and freeze briefly. For the vinaigrette it was important to emulsify while slowly whisking olive oil into an emulsification agent (creamy mustard) and the vinegar. Three parts oil to two parts vinegar to one part mustard.

Dessert was delicious. We skinned the orange with our knife and cut out all the segments, which was a nice technique to learn. Then added sugar and the alcohol to macerate them – the alcohol and sugar is drawn into the orange and the orange juices are drawn out to strike a delicious balance. It all takes about one hour.

That was that, we sat down to a nice dinner and some wine and off we went, finally not having to clean up after ourselves.

Looking forward to what class number two brings.


November 9, 2010

D and I recently signed up for a 5-day cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education here in NYC. I’ve heard some very good things about the one day classes they offer, so we decided to go for it and hit up a more intensive option while we’re still earning a regular income.

We’ll be taking Fine Cooking 1 which meets each Monday, from 6 to 11pm (!) starting on 11/22. We almost signed up for a version which met for five days straight and then realized that we weren’t exactly that masochistic. Or in some sort of major rush. The class focuses on technique rather than any recipe or style specifically.

Instead of narrowly focusing on a roast duckling recipe, for example, you’ll master roasting techniques that can be applied to foods from fish to fruit.

It sounded like a great option for enhancing our skills – we can already create whatever we want out of a recipe book but want to develop some serious confidence improvising. Plus I hear we get to take home a boatload of leftovers.

Looking forward to blogging about the class!

The Wonders of Google

October 28, 2010

I don’t understand how anyone accomplished anything before Google. With just a bit of effort we’ve uncovered example business plans for B&B’s and small wineries, documents on financial planning, and even pre-filled spreadsheets to help direct you through creating financials and 5-10 year plans. Amazingly helpful.

We have also begun putting together a list of our contacts and reaching out to them for advice, and more contacts! I want part of our transition travels to involve some real work-study type efforts at wineries and in kitchens where we can learn and truly hone our skills. How amazing and useful would it be to “intern” with a baker in Tuscany or work under the tutelage of a chef in France? I think we will truly be able to differentiate ourselves even further if we can incorporate some classical European style into our efforts, wherever the final location may be. And, so we throw that desire out into the Universe and see what comes back. I know there are people who have done it and will seek their advice as well. It’s quite exciting to think about what that transition period will become!

It’s Official!

October 25, 2010

A couple of things were made official this weekend. First, we are now officially certified Godparents of our friends’ beautiful little daughter. And we also won the award for Most Enthusiastic Godparents which is pretty cool.

Secondly, Saturday, October 23rd marked the official start to the Twenty Months countdown. Twenty months worth of time suddenly seems simultaneously so far off and yet so soon!

There is a lot to think about and learn between now and June 23rd, 2012. D purchased a book on running a Bed and Breakfast which will go a long way towards helping us understand what questions to ask ourselves. We think considering location is certainly one of the most important parts of the process. The list is thankfully narrowed based on what we want to do and though there are sure to be many mutually desirable factors and decision points between being a winery, a B&B, and an event space, there are bound to be some contentious ones as well. To that end, I began a simple “Location Analysis” spreadsheet where we can begin by listing out desirable locations and their pros, cons, and topics to research for each aspect of the goal. First of what I’m sure will be a happy family of spreadsheets.

Bodegas Peñafiel Miros de Ribera Reserva Collection Privada

October 18, 2010

After a stint of not drinking I am currently enjoying my first glass of wine in (gasp!) almost a week! A 2001 Bodegas Peñafiel Miros de Ribera Reserva Collection Privada. Per the label, she spent 24 months in French oak and was bottled in May 2004. Its still a beautiful somewhat pale ruby, but with hints of its age beginning to show at the rim. The nose is leather and dark fruit – rather earthy, but gentle. The palette initially strikes red cherry notes but eases into the blacker character with leather and tobacco notes. Pretty stout powdery tannins and a nice level of acidity seem to indicate this would have a good bit of life left in it. To me it comes off a bit hotter than the 13.5% alcohol indicated on the label – but that could just be me.

Great overall, especially off of for all of $17 a bottle.