Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cooking Class Series: Part 1

I took my third cooking class this weekend. It is a three-part series, so stay tune for the other two classes. Today, we made three dishes. The first dish was a Summer vegetable ratatouille. The second dish was a vanilla bean soufflé with strawberry sauce. The third dish was pan-roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary. All the dishes were scrumptious. Let's start at the beginning.

The first dish we made was Summer vegetable ratatouille. We practiced our knife skills and proper hold of the knife to prepare all the veggies in the dish. We learned to make things the are spherical flat first. Then, you make sticks. Then, cut the opposite direction to make cubes. This technique was super helpful to get all the vegetables about the same size. Having food cut to the same size helps everything cook at similar rates, so the vegetables are done at the same time. Our group divided and conquered dicing eggplant, onion, red bell pepper, zucchini, tomatoes. We mince garlic cloves and chiffonade the basil.

Start by heating your Dutch oven with oil until shimmery. Sauté all the vegetables, starting with the vegetable that takes the longest to cook. In our case, that is the eggplant. Sauté all veggies until browned. Let everything stew while you're preparing the rest of the meal.

Top with Parmesan cheese before serving and enjoy!

The second dish was la vanilla bean shuffle with strawberry sauce.  I was especially excited to try this dish because it seems a bit intimidating. Ours was delicious!

Start by getting all your ingredients measured and assembled. This is also know as mis en place. Then, separate your egg whites from egg yolks. We used the three-bowl technique for separating eggs. It's a little messy, but it's cheap and easy. 

You start with three empty containers. Crack the egg into bowl 1. Use your hand to grab the yolk. Let the white run through you fingers. Put the egg yolk in bowl 2. Pour the egg whites in bowl 3. Begin the process again until you've separated all the eggs.

Heat butter, flour and milk in a saucepan. It's like making a roux. You melt the butter, whisk in flour and slowly add milk. Then, flavor your soufflé base. We used sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Let the mixture you before whisking in yolks. Let mixture cool.

Next, whisk the egg whites in a stand mixer to get stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the soufflé base.  Start with 1/3 of the egg whites. Fold in the remainder of the egg whites in 2 batches. You're almost there!

Prepare ramekins for the batter by greasing with butter and dusting with granulated sugar. Pour a little sugar into the dish and rotated around until it is covered with sugar. Poor off the excess.

Scoop the batter into ramekins.  I like to use an ice cream scoop to help portion. It's neater and more precise than using a kitchen spoon. Then, level the soufflé with a spatula. Run your finger around the edge of the ramekin to chat a moat around the edge. This helps the soufflé rise. 

Place the soufflé in the oven until full risen and golden brown.

We prepared a strawberry sauce to top the soufflé. I preferred the soufflé on it's own; you can really taste the vanilla bean.

The third dish was pan-roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary.  We made the entree while the soufflé were cooking. Prepare your ingredients. Mince shallot, garlic clove, and rosemary. Zest a lemon and juice it. Set butter out. Measure whine and low sodium chicken broth.

Bring chicken to room temperature while still maintaining food safety. Dry the chicken. Start by heating your pan with oil until shimmery. This turns the pan into more of a nonstick pan.

Brown the on both sides. Then, finish the chicken in the oven on a sheet tray topped with an oven-safe baking rack. How do we know when the chicken is cooked?

Insert oven-safe thermometer. Set to 180*F.  When the thermometer reaches 180*F, the chicken is fully cooked. Tent the chicken with aluminum foil and let rest while you prepare the pan sauce. 

Drain the majority of oil from the pan that you seared the chicken in. Don't wash it out! We want to make use of the fond. Fond, what's that? Fond is the culinary term for the caramelized brown bits on the bottom of the pan. It's french for 'background, depth, or bottom." You can think of it as the basis for our pan sauce. 

To make the pan sauce, turn the heat to medium and add butter. Sauté garlic and butter until softened. Deglaze the pan with wine. Let the liquid concentrate by reducing by half. Add chicken broth and flavorings. We used rosemary and lemon zest. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the fond or caramelized bits off the bottom of the pan. Turn of the heat. Add remaining butter. This is called "mounting" a sauce. Mounting a sauce is adding chilled butter. Slowly add the butter and stir to emulsify the sauce. 

All the recipes were super simple to make because all the ingredients were prepped and ready. Many chefs use this technique called mis en place. This is a french term that translates to "put in place."  We measured all the ingredients for each dish and had them ready to go before we started the cooking process. Preparing your mis en place is something every cook can do to make cooking easier. Prepare you meal like the recipe reads. You measure and chop, dice, slice all the ingredients. Preheat ovens or pans. After the preparation is done, now it's time to cook. Try this technique at home to make cooking easier!

I highly recommend taking a cooking class if you want to learn a new skill or try a new recipe. My favorite aspects of this cooking class were:

1) Getting hands-on experience learning a new skill.

2) Recipe preparation and clean up was completed by the staff. No dishes! 

3) Tasting new recipes and trying new foods.

I encourage you to try something new. I don't know if I would have tried to make a soufflé by myself. But, it was simple and successful in class with the help of the chef and sous chefs. Don't be afraid to try a new recipe, and taste something new!

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