Culinary Arts Program – Week Two

My goal is normally to post these weekly recaps by Sunday, but I couldn’t squeeze my other post in any sooner. I have had a hectic weekend and am still feeling unsettled in my apartment. I also got a job as a host at a Spanish tapas restaurant. So this weekend I worked my first two shifts, went furniture shopping, built furniture, went to a show on campus, cooked some, did laundry, and read for class. It was a tiring weekend, but I got a lot done. My entire week from start to finish was productive in and out of the “classroom” aka the culinary arts kitchen.

If I thought that week one of the culinary arts certificate class would be a sign of what was to come, then I was not fully prepared for week two. I thought that we learned a lot during week one, but week two brought so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Week two was better for multiple reasons. We got into a better grove, being more comfortable in the kitchen. My body also got more accustomed to being on my feet all day, so I was less physically exhausted after each day.  We also got to produce actual food that could be consumed as meals, so it felt like we did so much more than in week one.

During week two, we had soups day, our first pastry day (cookies), and two days of poultry.  Each day was a bit more exciting than the last. The knowledge and skill gained this week was unbelievable.

Monday was soup day. In total, we made chicken consommé, cream of tomato soup, cream of broccoli soup, ham and white bean soup, and lobster bisque. Each of our three groups made the consommé and the cream of tomato soup, but each group only made one of the remaining three soups. I was most excited to make the lobster bisque, so I was really hoping I got to be in that team. We get assigned our stations for the day by pulling numbered spoons, so it is completely random. The spoon spirits must have known how badly I wanted to make bisque, because I pulled the spoon for the group making the bisque.

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We were delivered these live lobsters to our station. My teammate got to butcher the lobsters right there at our station. I most appreciated learning the process of making the bisque over the other soups, though each soup was delicious in its own right. New England tomatoes are in season right now, and we got some great qualities local tomatoes to make our cream of tomato soup.

 

The consommé was a unique experience. Though this is not a soup I’d eat any day, it is a classic French dish. I enjoyed learning the technique of clarifying stock into consommé.

 

While soup may seem like a simple ‘throw everything in the pot’ dish, I actually learned quite a bit of technique on this day. There was intention behind every step we took in the process. The result were beautiful, colorful, flavorful soups.

 

We made so much soup that we had plenty of leftovers to eat for lunch throughout the week. I am hoping to get some good soups made throughout my first New England winter.

 

On Tuesday, we jumped from soups to cookies. It was our first pastry day in the kitchen. We were pretty much told to throw out all our knowledge about home baking and start fresh. I seemed to be the one with the most home-baking experience, so that was going to be a challenge. However, we did already learned some tricks to improve our baking, such as weighing ingredients instead of just using measuring cups. I don’t think this is something that is realistic and necessary for most home baking, as most baking recipes outside of professional kitchens and bakeries are not listed in weight but volume. The key to weighing the ingredients is that it does take a lot of the inconsistency out of baking.

We made a variety of specialty cookies. These cookies are not your mamma’s chocolate chip cookies (which I am sure are very good). We made diamond sablés, chocolate sablés, cappuccino biscotti, and graham crackers.

 

Each cookie was uniquely delicious. The diamond sablés taste like those butter cookies your grandmother might have in a tin and then uses the tin for sewing stuff. Only, these were even better. I want to experiment and see if I can adapt this recipe slightly for other flavorings.  We used vanilla bean to flavor those.

The chocolate sablés were made by piping the cookie dough with a pastry bag. They have a rich chocolate flavor and a nice crunch. They reminded me taste-wise of a thicker and crisper chocolate pizzelle. These cookies can be used to make tiny cookie sandwiches with jam filling. The pastry chef said it would also be good to then dip the sandwiches in melted chocolate. That sounds perfect in my book!

My first thought when reading the recipe for the biscotti is that my dad would love this. I was not wrong! He asked for the recipe, which I passed along. At first the flavor seems very mild, but these cookies develop layers of flavor which come first from the cinnamon then from the espresso, then from the chocolate. My dad and I love making biscotti, so maybe I will make some more for him when I travel home for Thanksgiving.

Finally, the graham crackers…these cookies are not to be overlooked. They really do taste like graham crackers (thanks to the graham flour) but they are so much better. I am pretty sure I won’t be buying graham crackers from the store any time soon. It would so be worth it to make this graham cracker dough to make a graham cracker crust for cheesecake or cream pies.

I think we all loved our first pastry day. It was the first day where everyone brought some leftovers home. After all, we had plenty to go around. We had mountains of fresh baked cookies for enjoyment.

 

Wednesday and Thursday were our poultry days. We didn’t do much cooking, though we did roast a few chickens. The primary point of the day was to learn how to debone birds. Some people get grossed out by raw poultry. When I told some people what we were doing that day, they cringed. It doesn’t bother me, and it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. I suppose we all understand it is just part of the cooking process.

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I enjoyed learning how to properly break down a bird. I had tried a couple times with no guidance, but I did not do such a great job. From this week’s lesson, I am better able to recognize where the joints are and where to make the cuts. Everything we do in this class is helping us become better cooks.

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Thursday was by far my favorite day of the program thus far. We made so many variations of chicken and duck that we had a whole feast at the end of the day. We made duck breast (with crispy skin) and a plum sauce; boneless chicken breast with creamy mushroom sauce; skin-on statler chicken breast with tomato sauce; duck confit; duck and chicken liver mousse; sweet and spicy chicken drumsticks; and spicy chicken tacos. MY dishes did not look as pretty as the chef’s, but I am still working on presentation. All the meat was cooked well, but I struggled with some of my sauces. This is why I am here, so I can improve and learn.

 

My favorite of the individual dishes we made was the duck breast with plum sauce. I would absolutely make that dish for myself at home. I could even change the fruit with the seasons. My favorite dish overall was the spicy chicken tacos. The chef made homemade corn masa tortillas, which made that dish come to life. If anyone truly knows me, then they know I am a sucker for freshly made tortillas (and that corn are the best!)

 

 

 

Well, week two was amazing! I loved every second of it. Now, I am off to start week three. Today is breakfast day. I have class starting in a few, so I am going to sign off for now.

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