It’s never too late to start again.  I’ve been neglecting this space for weeks, partly because life in the last couple of months has been a whirlwind of changes, but admittedly, I’ve also been exhausted, and OK a little lazy too.

I started this blog not only because I wanted to share my experience in culinary school with my friends and family, but also to document my progress, both in cooking technique and my emotional journey. Unfortunately, I have failed on both counts for a couple of months here.

But, it’s never too late to regroup and pick up where I left off.

Piped Potatoes Duchess

Piped Potatoes Duchess

About half-way through my second quarter, I thought it would be a good idea to start documenting my progress with photos too.  (I don’t know what took me so long to think of that, so don’t ask!)  Obviously, they’re not really related to the content they appear next to, but I wanted to include them in this post . . . because it’s MY blog . . . I can do whatever I please with MY blog. 😉

Next quarter, which begins on January 10, and is a continuation of the I-have-no-life culinary school schedule, includes:

  • Catering – Monday nights from 6:30 to 11:00 p.m. (I have to leave MKE at 2 or 2:30 to beat traffic!)
  • Mexican Cuisine – Wednesday & Thursday nights, first 5 weeks, 6:30 to 11:00 p.m.
  • French Bistro Cooking – Wednesday & Thursday nights, second 5 weeks, 6:30 to 11:00 p.m.
pasta

Homemade pasta

I’ve thought about focusing my career on Mexican food, since Rick Bayless is such an inspiration to me. Now I get the opportunity to cook Mexican food for several weeks in a row.  Exciting!

I’m looking forward to French Bistro, too.  Lake Park or Coquette, here I come!

So what did I miss blogging about last quarter? In reverse order:

Intro to garde manger – cold food like salads, sandwiches, canapes, pates, cured salmon, and egg preparations.  I still haven’t managed to perfect the French omelette, but I’m getting there.  And, anyway, as Chef Pollin told fellow culinarian, Rick, “an omelette a great chef does not make.”  That’s a relief!

Methods of cooking – you know, all the different techniques you use when cooking stuff:  sauteing, grilling, braising, etc. That was a yummy bunch of classes, with good leftovers to boot.   My favorite dish had to be trout a la meuniere.  Basically sauteed trout with toasted almonds and brown butter sauce.  My god, just thinking about it now is making my mouth water!

Stocks, sauces, soups – self-explanatory, no?  Well, I guess not entirely.  I’m not going to make myself go crazy or bore anyone who may read this by going into a long explanation of classic sauces and techniques for soups, but I will say to the  3 people who read this and are interested in learning more, definitely look up the 5 mother sauces.

boiled dinner

A Boiled Dinner - Corned Beef and Blanched Vegetables

It was decidedly the most important lesson in this course, because these sauces are the foundation of French cuisine. Almost nothing you get in a French bistro, as well as many other types of restaurants, doesn’t include at least a couple of these classic sauces:

  1. Bechamel
  2. Veloute
  3. Tomato
  4. Espagnole
  5. Hollandaise

Most of these sauces, with the exception of the Hollandaise begin with a roux, which is made simply by combining an equal amount of butter and flour by weight, and cooking it over a medium-ish heat.

From these sauces, you can make a million other “small” sauces by adding a royale (mixture of egg yolk and cream), different herbs and flavorings, such as lemon juice, aromatics, vegetables, etc.

bird shaped out of an apple

Apple Bird - aka gimmick, but you gotta admit, it's cool.

Bechamel, in my opinion, deserves specific mention, because it’s so useful.  Who knew? Obviously, I didn’t, or I wouldn’t be in culinary school.

The bechamel sauce combines a white roux (so the roux is cooked only for a minute or 2) with milk and a bay leaf attached to an onion with a clove.  I know that sounds weird.  Just peel your onion, hold a bay leaf to it, and attach it with the pointy end of a clove or 2.  A lot of recipes skip this little contraption, buy why?  It takes 3 seconds to put together – Ok maybe a minute since you have to dig the bay leaf and clove out of the spice pantry, and it lends a lot more flavor to the sauce.

The ratio of roux to milk is 8:1.  If you’ve ever made a classic baked mac and cheese (mmm, yummy!), you’ve probably started with a bechamel, then added your cheese, mustard, worcestershire, tabasco, and other flavorings the recipe may have called for.

This sauce is truly indispensable, as it can be used for many applications besides mac and cheese.

If you’re a recipe slave (no shame – I was one for a very long time, and still rely on them as guides), here’s one from The Kitchn, a blog I like to check out occasionally.

Finally, if you really want to impress your friends, make your own mayonnaise.  It’s remarkably easy, and you get a little upper arm/shoulder workout – bonus!

aspic

Aspic - don't ask. It strikes me as very old fashioned. But classmate Mavis and I made a Christmas tree!

Start with an egg yolk and a generous spoonful of dijon mustard.  Begin whisking vigorously and drizzle in your vegetable oil.  The ratio of egg yolk to veg oil is 1 yolk to 1 cup (7-8 oz) oil.  Add lemon juice, salt and pepper, and voila! Mayonnaise!

Your mayo might break if you dump in too much oil at once or if you don’t whisk fast enough.  No worries. Just dump an egg yolk into a clean bowl, and drizzle in broken mixture along with additional oil until it’s the right consistency.

Want tartar sauce?  Finely chop some pickles or cornichons, capers, shallots and throw it in the mixture with a bit more lemon juice.

Want garlic aioli?  Simmer a crushed garlic clove or 2 with your oil before adding it to the egg yolk (let the oil cool to room temp).

Good stuff, but I’m running out of steam.  More later.  I promise!

Bon Appetit!

And a few more photos:

 

salmon canapes

Salmon canapes - for my final exam! Chef Pollin thought they were very nice!

failed omelettes

Collateral damage from omelette-making on exam night. It took 3 or 4 pans before I found one that was actually nonstick, and allowed me to create at least a passable French omelette!

final exam dishes

Other dishes we had to make for the final: tuna salad, made with our own mayonnaise, and my last marginally successful omelette

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