Tag Archives: Food Basics Class

Week 3 – Food Basics – Soufflés

What a start to the week. We all arrived around the same time and began to unpack. When Craig took his winter coat off, we saw that he was wearing his Chef’s coat. The remaining 4 of us obviously asked how he got it and if he knew anything about ours. Since Craig is not in the same Baking Basics class as the rest of us on Wednesday, he got his on Thursday. Immediately jealous, I went downstairs to the pantry and storage area right away along with Peter, Jen and Maya to check the status on ours. They had arrived also! We promptly put them on and sat in our seats just in time for lecture.

My Chef Coat

Lecture

Chef Eliana was out today as planned and swapped Food Basics classes with Chef Erin. While Chef Eliana was missed, it was interesting to observe another teaching style and and discussion for methods to execute our dishes.

We reviewed eggs from last week before starting our lecture on this week’s topic, soufflés. It was great to tie things in as eggs are a major component of many soufflés. As we went through the egg review and proper techniques including mixing and folding, we touched upon two things that can happen with eggs and/or protein in soufflés, hydrolysis and syneresis. Hydrolysis is the breakdown of protein by water, and syneresis (also known as weeping) is the breakdown of protein and water, generally when too much mechanical action, such as over whipping, has occurred.

Chef Erin discussed the different properties of metal and cooking pots, and how some aren’t good to use because of how they react with the food such as aluminum and acids. Others work really well for the same reach, such as copper with eggs. The challenge is using the right pot for the right application.

We got a demo on the proper whipping of egg whites by hand, something we’d have to do in lab so we could learn how to do it properly. Using a good whisk with many tines made the process easier and we were able to observe the changes easily. It was important to do this by hand, because eggs can be over whipped easily in a stand mixer and if they are whipped too far, syneresis can happen. Chef Joe was asked to find some whites and put them in a stand mixer and let it run for a while. They were beat to hell and we could easily see the difference between the properly beaten eggs from Chef Eric and the eggs in Chef Joes mixing bowl which had water at the bottom.

As the lecture came to a close, Chef Erin talked about using collars on our ramekins so they could be filled to the top and then expose our wonderful sufflés. This was very different than the technique I was shown at Sur La Table and we discussed this. Essentially, if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a soufflé, why hide part of the rise in the ramekin? We ended with a word about folding. Mise and place and timing are important. When the egg whites are whipped, the clock starts ticking to get everything folded and into a ramekin and then to the oven. The longer you wait, the more the egg whites will fall and you’ll miss out on some of the rise from baking.

Chef Recommended Book: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

Lab

After our lecture ended, we chose our recipes. I chose the Grand Marnier Orange Soufflé with Grand Marnier Sabayon. I was assigned kitchen cleanup duty which seems like an easy task, but is hard in practice when you’re focused on making your own recipe. Dirty dishes keep coming no matter how hard you try to keep up. Luckily, given the nature of soufflés, we were told to serve them right out of the oven instead of coming up with a service time. This is likely the only reprieve we’ll have from the stress of serving on time.

Mise en Place was fairly straight forward. I was able to pull my custard together and then whipped my egg whites appropriately in a bowl. We did this by hand to avoid over whipping, and so that we could recognize the different stages of egg white whipping. It’s amazing to see how quickly egg whites can go from not whipped to whipped and hold a soft peak.  As Chef Erin stated, when the egg whites are whipped, the clock starts ticking. I folded the whites into the the custard and then into the ramekin, then everything went into the oven. I set out to make my Sabayon.

I haven’t made Sabayon before, although I love eating it. I’m glad I got a chance to make it this week. We amped up the wine used for the recipe by finding a bottle from a recreational class that was not fully consumed instead of using a generic white available in the pantry. I whipped vigorously as I brought everything up to temperature and it thickened. Right before pulling it off the stove, I added a bit of Grand Marnier. Just at this time, my soufflé was ready.

Sabayon

My soufflé rose but was slightly overcooked as it was left in too long. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any skewers to test that it was at the French Cream stage, slightly soft in the middle and cooked throughout. This cost me a few extra minutes of wasted time and my soufflé had some cracking on the top.

Soufflé Grand Marnier Soufflé Grand Marnier Soufflé Grand Marnier

I had missed the doneness I was looking for. A missed Mise en Place error for sure! Regardless, we dug in and poured in the Sabayon.

Soufflé Grand Marnier with SabayonSoufflé Grand Marnier with Sabayon

 

My Recipe, Soufflé Grand Marnier

Soufflé Grand Marnier with Sabayon and Powdered Sugar

Soufflé Vendôme

Soufflé Vendome

Soufflé de Crevette

Soufflé de Crevette

Crème Caramel

Crême Caramel

Amarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé

Armarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé Armarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé Armarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé Armarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé with Crême Anglaise Armarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé with Crême Anglaise

Lemon Souffléd Pudding with Blueberry Sauce

Lemon Soufflêd Pudding with Blueberry Sauce Lemon Soufflêd Pudding with Blueberry Sauce

Key Observations and Learnings

  • Even though recipes call for measurements for things like butter and sugar, that will be used to coat a ramekin, I can save time by using common sense. An exact amount is not needed.
  • I can still be even better with mise en place. This includes tools I’ll need for execution like skewers, which are not in the recipe.
  • When making something delicate like a soufflé, timing is hard. You can’t just open the oven door when you want as you might ruin someone else’s work.
  • Seasoning will be an ongoing learning process.
  • Teamwork is essential in the kitchen as is some level of selfishness. There is a line between hoarding the tools that you need and sharing with your classmates. I am sure this is magnified in a commercial kitchen.

Week 2 – Food Basics – Eggs

Due to some class changes, we’ve dropped to five students now. This is awesome from the perspective of student/instructor ratio, meaning we now have more individualized attention, but difficult because there is more work to do to get all the recipes done, while also keeping up with kitchen assignments.

We already knew this class would be tough. Eggs in food are an important subject and proper cooking and technique are crucial. Eggs, their proper use and technique are a foundation for cooking and the success of a recipe. Hell many oldschool chefs audition new cooks by having them cook an omelette. The recipes for today’s class also looked heavy so we expected to enter into a food coma after our family meal.

Lecture

Our lecture started off with a discussion of chickens, their breeding environments and egg laying. We also discussed properties of an egg such as cooking times and how they should look as well as their major parts (shell, albumen and yolk).

Eggs can come in a variety of sizes, from largest to smallest, jumbo to extra-large to large to medium to small and finally peewee (also known as brighten or pullet). Recipes generally call for large eggs unless otherwise noted. We also discussed egg grading, the coagulation point for proteins when cooked (very important for sauces and other delicate cooking procedures) and the special properties that make eggs a magical substance for cooking.

This discussion had a major emphasis on emulsification (permanent, semi permanent and temporary) and factors we should consider for success, along with foaming and then the mother sauces. For our sake, the Mother Sauces are Mayonnaise, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole. Methods for cooking eggs were also discussed. All of the information was a lot to take in, but what was really on everyone’s mind was the application of knowledge in our lab to come.

Lab

Today I had kitchen management (red box) duty. Essentially I had to gather ingredients from the pantry and ensure everyone had what they needed for their recipes.

For a recipe, I was assigned Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise. When it was I assigned to me, I cringed a bit because asparagus isn’t my favorite, and mayonnaise can be tough to make right with respect to doing it by hand and getting a good emulsification. Since I was poaching eggs, Chef Eliana wanted me to try out a few other methods for cooking eggs like Sous Vide (french for under vacuum) and Hard Boiling. I was definitely excited about Sous Vide using the immersion heat circulator. I had never used one before and had only seen them on TV!

Eggs in Immersion Circulator

As we cooked we were determined to keep up with the dishes. Having worked in the kitchen before, we all felt a bit more confident in how to get setup and start working. We were quicker to get setup and have our mise checked. It’s amazing how much our pace picked up and how the energy increased in the kitchen as a result.

I started with my Sous Vide eggs. Normally, you would vacuum seal a food product before immersing it in water, but eggs, our magical food product already come wrapped in a handy shell. The thermal regulator was set to 62.5 degrees Celcius and I set my watch for 50 minutes. It couldn’t get any easier than that.

I moved on to making my mayonnaise. Even though the recipe called for canola oil, to keep the texture light, I talked it over with Chef Joe, and we opted for olive oil. The risk was that we’d have a green mayonnaise, but it called for herbs and since I was serving it with the asparagus, I figured the color would be ok. I thought the olive oil would add for a nice flavor. The method for making mayonnaise by hand calls for adding a tiny bit of oil at a time to the eggs.

Starting Orange Dille Mayonnaise

Chef Eliana suggested that we add any flavoring ingredients like herbs and shallots etc. at the end, so we can easily tell if our emulsion is coming together. This was good advice as mine wasn’t.

Orange Dill Mayonnaise Emulsifying

 

We looked at it and she suggested I continue whisking it a bit more to see if the emulsion would come together before I added more oil. After a few minutes, things looked better, and I continued adding more oil.

Whipping up Orange Dill Mayonnaise

Once the oil was incorporated, I added in my flavoring ingredients and set out to poach and hardboil eggs.

Poaching was fairly easy as was making the hard boiled ones. My challenge came when Jen, our expediter for the day asked for timing confirmation. We had agreed when we would all be ready during the middle of class, although it was feeling like crunch time now. I definitely started feeling stressed, not knowing how I would plate my eggs three ways, and grill off my asparagus in time. I didn’t follow the golden rule of thinking about plating and timing before I started cooking and I was about to pay. Thankfully Jen helped me setup my deviled eggs so that I could pipe and season the yolk back in. At the last minute I decided to grill off some orange slices to go with the asparagus and found myself almost throwing my dish together to serve on time. I could hear Chef Eliana speaking loudly from the dining area “Where’s the food guys? Get it on a plate. You’re late. Time to serve!” What a rush.

All told, we were late with service by two minutes from the time we quoted Chef Eliana at the beginning of lab. Not bad, but we still can do better. The presentations looked really nice this week even with our tense ending. We have our seminar on tasting and finishing on Wednesday and have been told that after it, we have no excuse for poor execution with respect to presentation. Yikes! We can only continue to improve of course! Anything else would be disappointing.

Everyone’s dishes came out really well and I can see that we’re really starting to gel together in the kitchen.

My Dishes, Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise, Deviled Eggs, Sous Vide Slow Cooked Eggs

Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs

 

Deviled Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise

Soft Cooked Eggs

Roberta’s Eggs

Roberta's Eggs

L’Omelette Nature

L’Omelette Nature

Savory Waffles with Piperade and Scrambled Eggs

Savory Waffles with Piperade and Scrambled Eggs

Crêpe Quiche Cups

Crêpe Quiche Cup

Bread Pudding with Lemon Rum Sabayon Sauce

Bread Pudding with Lemon Rum Sabayon Sauce

Eggs en Cocotte

Eggs en Cocotte

Family Meal

Eggs Family Meal

Key Observations and Learnings

  • It’s really awesome to know that a chef will be in the kitchen as we cook. This is much different than reading a recipe at home and then attempting to cook on your own. If something goes wrong, ad this does happen, someone is there to help.
  • Timing is difficult for us and when times change, it’s hard to recalculate when your dish will be ready
  • The stove is tight! Even with our small class, we have to fight for the stove.
  • Chef Eliana encourages us to be creative with the recipes. If we think of a change, we have to commit and go for it!
  • Again, think about how the food should look before you start cooking. Last minute changes are panic inducing and might not work out.
  • For timing, think about how long it will take to plate, cook and work backwards. Add 15 mins as a buffer for mistakes or anything unplanned like waiting for an oven. Use that estimate to provide a time for plating to the expediter.
  • Making mistakes was exciting in a way. I learned why something bad happened, how to recognize it before it was not fixable and most importantly how to recover.

Week 1 – Food Basics – Vegetables and Herbs

Today was my first day at culinary school at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and it was awesome! Food Basics, the savory portion of the culinary program will be in kitchen A for our class. Our instructor for Food Basics is Chef Eliana and we have an assistant, Joe, who is a recent grad. The class is on the small side with 6 students. I’m looking forward to interacting with everyone as we have very different backgrounds and long-term goals.

We started off with a few “housekeeping” items as she explained what we should expect, how classes will be structured. We will be learning through recipes that apply to the topic or technique the class is focused on. While each student will be assigned a recipe or to work on a couple as a team, we won’t be able to make every recipe ourselves unless we do additional work to study outside of class. Chef Eliana was quick to point out that the recipes matter less than technique. The recipes are simply a basis for learning. If we don’t get to practice a technique in class, it will come up several times in recipes and demos.

Each class going forward will start with a review of the previous class, a lecture and then we’ll move onto the kitchen and cook for our “lab”. The class ends with everyone sitting down to eat at a “family” meal, where we get to test everything that was made, critique what we liked and didn’t like, the flavors and textures we noticed and what we observed about ourselves that we would like to do better or what we feel we did well. The Chef instructors will also provide feedback to us and the class overall. Let’s get on with it!

Lecture

As the lecture started and we went over general items, I took note of many key things that I’ll keep in the back of my mind throughout the semester.

  • Take pictures of your work and classmates’. You will need pictures of your food for a program portfolio and pictures for others in case they aren’t able to get a picture before service.
  • Mise en place will save you. Mise en place is essentially your prep work and setup to get ready to cook. If you don’t get yourself setup properly with ingredients sourced and measured along with the correct tools, you’re in for some trouble down the road.
  • Wash all of your vegetables. Don’t believe the pre-washed label. You’re responsible for what you serve.
  • Some sinks are for washing hands, some are for dishes, some can be used to wash food. You must be careful to use the right sink.
  • Sharp items to be washed go in the “sharps” bucket. Nothing sharp goes in the sink.
  • Steel you knife before each class. Your knives are essential kitchen tools.
  • Think about the end product before you cook.
  • Do not read recipes at the stove. If you are reading, you aren’t paying attention to what is being cooked. You should have reviewed your recipe several times to know what tools and ingredients you will need, how it will be plated and what the dependencies are.
  • Recipes are not as important as technique.
  • Every day we will work on our timing and communication. Working together as a team is what makes a kitchen work.
  • Over communicate in the kitchen. Warn others of hot items, knives coming through, ovens being opened. Don’t get hurt and don’t hurt others.
  • Food will be evaluated every time we cook. We will sit down to a meal together and critique each other and the Chefs will critique us.
  • Think about plating from day 1. We eat with our eyes first. If we make a mistake, “rebrand” it. We are in the business of selling and if something tastes good and uses proper technique, that matters most as students.
  • Use the appropriate sized plate for food being presented.
  • Hot plates are for hot food and cold plates are for cold food.
  • Our meal table must be set properly with forks, knives, spoons, and napkins in the right place.

We moved onto our main discussion and talked about some general concepts around food, cooking and presentation. Who knew, I would take so many notes on vegetables and herbs!

I enjoyed learning about how meal compositions are changing and moving away from being meat centric. We went over vegetables by their botanical categories, discussed parts of a plant and how they translate into what we call vegetables versus herbs and spices and what we actually eat. We also discussed the how some vegetables are treated like fruit and how some fruits are handled like vegetables as well as components of color, oxidation, nutrition and proper storage.

Chef Eliana described cooking as problem solving, noting that we will never have perfect conditions. Recipes are guides, not law. We must use judgement as we develop our skill.

For this class, the recipes had us employing different techniques including blanching and boiling, steaming, baking and roasting, grilling, sauteing, and sweating.

The end of the lecture focused on herbs, their proper use and storage and the differences between dry versus fresh herbs with respect to their taste and potency. We then tasted some raw herbs, described their flavors and their textures before moving into the kitchen.

Herb Tasting

Chef Eliana closed with a statement, saying we should “cook with intent, attention and always with love and affection. These are words to live by in the kitchen and with those words, we were off!

Chef recommended books: Ideas in Food by Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg , Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

Lab

In the kitchen, everyone is given a task in addition to cooking their recipes which is either a kitchen duty or to support someone else. My job today was to check the stock items to ensure everything was at the right level. If anything was missing or needed refilling, I had to take care of that by visiting the pantry. Recreational classes take place over the weekend, and the kitchen can be in an unknown state with respect to ingredients. Today I only had to get more olive oil, salt and red wine vinegar. Other roles include kitchen management & cleanup, and being an expediter and I’ll get to play all of them in the future. We were warned to keep up with dishes so that when we were done, we didn’t have a huge amount to wash keeping us in at the school longer. We’re responsible for keeping the kitchen moving in all aspects.

As for a recipe, I had the pleasure of being assigned Chef Eliana’s least favorite, Old-Fashioned Grated Sweet Potato Pudding. The texture of the result from the recipe is something we discussed before I entered the kitchen. I read through the recipe quickly and began working on my mise en place hoping to get things setup properly. We must have our “mise” checked before we can cook.

I measured and portioned out everything I needed and got to work. After getting my station checked, Chef Eliana gave me some suggestions on how I could alter the recipe for better results which I gladly accepted. One of them included cutting my sweet potatoes into a large dice and putting them on a sheet pan to bake in the oven for a few minutes. This would soften and brown them and provide more flavor as well as a better texture. This was an early sign to all of us that changing the recipes was ok. In what seemed like no time at all, Maya, who was assigned the task of Expediter was asking me when I would be done. I had to do some quick calculations and then gave my best guess.

While my sweet potatoes were in the oven, I worked on a shared recipe with Peter, an Herbed Frittata. I got the mise ready and checked as Peter was working on his Gazpacho. Even though I thought I had a lot of time, the clock was ticking fast and I had to finish up the Sweet Potato Pudding to meet the time we had set for service with Maya. I kind of panicked and had Peter help me finish the recipe while I went back to finishing the pudding.

Herbed Frittata Cooking

 

I had misread my recipe earlier and miscalculated the time for baking. I took the sweet potato out of the oven, let them cool and opted to change my cooking vessel from a regular 9×9 suggested in the recipe to some large ramekins which I thought would look nicer and hopefully cook faster! The problem was finding two identical ramekins that would be big enough, which I luckily found in another kitchen.

Near plating, I decided to make some whipped cream from scratch to go along with the presentation. I was totally winging it here without a recipe or ratios. As people walked by from other classes, they were quick to give advice, some that was conflicting. Unfortunately, when Chef Eliana came over to check my progress, I was told that I over whipped my cream into butter. It’s funny because I couldn’t tell, but I started over again and achieved a much better product.

Peter and I finished the frittata in the salamander (a professional kitchen broiler) and put it on a pizza peel for serving minutes before service time.

Herbed Frittata in Salemander

 

Amazingly we all finished on time and sat down to a great meal. The last few minutes felt tense, but we all breathed a sigh of relief as we took pictures of the final products, and served ourselves.

My Recipe, Old-Fashioned Grated Sweet Potato Pudding

Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pudding

Shared Recipe with Peter, Herbed Frittata

Herbed Frittata

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Fresh Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes & Garlic Basil Dressing

Fresh Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Baby Beet Salad With Mint and Tarragon

Baby Beet Salad with Mint and Tarragon

Family Meal

Vegetables and Herbs Family Meal

Key Observations and Learnings

  • We managed to get food out on time which apparently has never happened.
  • We totally failed at dishes and were left with a huge pile to clean.
    Dirty Dishes!
  • It’s nerve racking to cook in a new kitchen, but after we set out to work the nerves settled.
  • Close the oven quickly after you put something in so you don’t drop the temperature. Convection ovens cool down much more quickly because the fan is blowing air around.
  • Don’t panic. Just ask for help from a classmate.
  • Time disappears when you’re busy
  • Read your recipe fully until you know the steps well.
  • Even though our class is small, we’ll be pushed to do most if not all of the recipes. Small class size is a blessing and a curse.
  • Critiquing others’ work was fun and informative. We all had different points of view, likes and dislikes.
  • Being critiqued by my classmates and the Chefs was constructive with lots of encouragement. We survived our first day.