Saturday, February 28, 2009

I Am a Top Chef!

(Reposted from Stefanie Says, fyi)

I just finished my all-day cooking class. What fun!!!! I definitely recommend anyone who wants to build more confidence in the kitchen take a beginning skills/techniques class - I feel so much better prepared to experiment now! And, thanks go to Mom and Dad for answering my call for a gift certificate for Christmas. What a great gift! :-)

Today was the Beginner Techniques Workshop at L'Academie de Cuisine (Top Chef finalist Carla Hall's alma mater - Hootie Hoo!) in Bethesda. It was a full class of about 20 people. There was a nice mix of people of all ages. I ended up partnering with a woman about my age who works on the Hill. Her husband had given her a gift certificate for her birthday, and we both were at about the same basic skill level. I've done a little more cooking-cooking, she's done more baking, so we balanced out well. Around were a couple of nice guys who I'm guessing were signed up by their wives. :-) There also seemed to be two mother-son pairs, which was pretty cute, and a whole bunch of singles of all ages. It was all very friendly.

The agenda for the day:

Morning - We made our own focaccia bread (my partner and I flavored ours with garlic, basil, and parmesan), corn and potato chowder, and a garlic and basil vinaigrette to serve over field greens. When everything was done, we ate it all as our lunch with a few bottles of chardonnay cracked open. Yum, wine with lunch! I do love Saturdays.

Afternoon - Then we moved on to working in large groups to make roasted potatoes with red peppers, and back to pairs for chicken marsala with mushrooms and an apple and pecan cake with ginger glaze. At about 3:45 everything was ready so we ate again, with a few more bottles of chardonnay. Excellent!

Things that I learned how to do today, which I'd never done before:
- make a roux
- chiffonade fresh basil (chiffonade's a verb, right?)
- a better way to dice an onion, leaving the root end intact to hold it all together to the end
- make homemade bread dough and let it proof and rise, and proof and rise again
- add a little bit of honey to a vinaigrette to balance the vinegar in an awesome way
- pound chicken breasts (our instructor kept yelling "be a pirate! pound it hard! aargh!")
- dredge meat in seasoned flour
- use a shallot (I never have before!)
- deglaze a pan and make a sauce with all those brown bits (a big Food Network trick, but I'd never actually done it)
- use a stand mixer - first time!
- toast pecans in a dry saute pan (yay toasty nuts!)

Things I did today that I will *totally* do again:
- make a chowdah -- so many options! I may try a potato/leek version at some point
- that honey in the vinaigrette trick - LOVE. WANT TO MARRY.
- do breaded chicken cutlets - there are lots of options there, too!

Handy tips:
- doughscrapers are awesome, and so versatile. We used them all day to keep cleaning off our cutting boards. Must get one.
- using your thumb and index finger to help grip your knife blade = better control
- when measuring out your flour, stir it up first and scoop it into your cup with big spoon to lighten it up - you want your flour measured by volume not weight. Packing it in tight to your measuring up probably gives you too much.
- flatten celery before dicing it, much easier
- have a buffer in the pan before you start to cook garlic - something else with a little moisture so it won't start to burn (oil, onions, etc.)
- chicken is done at 165 degrees
- when adding alcohol to a cooking dish - add it OFF the heat. then let the alcohol boil before adding any other ingredient, it cooks off some of the alcohol that way
- cracking eggs on a flat surface, rather than against an edge = less shell in your dish
- if you're adding eggs to something, have them be at room temperature so cook / blend faster
- keep sliced apples from turning brown by immersing them in water with a little lemon juice. The water keeps the oxygen away, and the lemon juice = vitamin C, which is an antioxidant.

That's about it -- it was a great day, and I am looking forward to planning more meals for myself with these handy tips and more experience under my belt. Hooray!

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