Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Cooking Class at Central Market

First of all, merry belated Christmas and early happy New Year! I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season.

Now, before I get into babbling on about today’s subject, I feel the need to make a brief comment on the therapeutic powers of cooking. I am having a particularly shitty week (sorry about the rough language, but its true). It’s a long story and I won’t bore you all with it, but needless to say, I am feeling rather depressed. However, each night this week I have come home after a long day at work and spent some time in the kitchen. Last night I made a mushroom lo mein; tonight it was a carrot frittata with fried potatoes. I don’t think I mentioned that I joined a winter CSA – Pete’s Greens, based out of Craftsbury, VT. Every Wednesday I get a great share of veggies and other local products, so I have been coming up with a lot of different ways to use them. I have kind of a routine when it comes to cooking. First, I always have music playing. I usually let iTunes create a playlist based on my mood – tonight was Norah Jones and James Morrison, a nice jazzy, mellow feel. Next, I don my apron (I got a really cute one for Christmas that makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn). I review my recipe, if I am using one, and finally start prepping. I listen to the music and do not have too much time to think about whatever is bothering me, because I need to concentrate on what I am doing so I do not burn/slice myself. After all is said and done, I then get to enjoy the “fruits” of my labor (sorry, bad pun). There is something soothing and comforting about the whole ordeal, and I feel a lot better afterwards.

On with the subject at hand…You may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned a cooking class that my father and I were going to be taking while I visited my family in Texas for Christmas. Well, we took it and it was awesome! The food we learned to prepare was fabulous, the class was structured really well, and I came away from the experience with a lot of new tips and techniques. The theme of the three hour course was “A Night in Paris,” which was based on a meal the head of the cooking school had enjoyed while in, you guessed it, Paris (and no, NOT Paris, TX). There were a total of about 20 participants, which were then divided into two groups of five or six pairs. Each group was led by one of the staff. Our teacher, Rebecca, was great. She was friendly and really knowledgeable about all sorts of foodie things. I enjoyed her company and her instruction. The class was structured so that each pair in the group focused on one main component of the meal, while still being able to watch and learn from everyone else. My dad and I worked on the warm shallot dressing for the duck salad, and got some great pointers regarding knife skills.

At the end of the class, once everything was all set, we got to sit down and enjoy a full three course meal – and it was excellent. Oh, did I mention that wine was included, too? The food was served to us on china and it was like being at a restaurant, except we’d had a hand in preparing everything! The first course consisted of the previously mentioned duck salad with warm shallot dressing, as well as a chicken and pistachio mousse with traditional accoutrement. The duck breast was prepared in a stovetop smoker and was some of the best I have ever had – seriously. Plus, now I have to get one of those smokers, because it was super neat. And the mousse. Oh my god, was it delicious. I have to admit, I had only had chicken liver mousse/pate one time before, and I did not care for it…it was a little too chickeny, you know? That was not the case the other night. This pate was more a mix of chicken breast and livers, then studded with whole pistachios and wrapped in bacon. They served it was these really yummy garlic toasts, sweet pickles, and Dijon mustard. I was full after the first course, and there was still so much more to come!

The second course was a seared rib eye topped with a chive compound butter, sautéed veggies, and duck fat roasted potatoes. Yes, you read that correctly. Did you know that you can buy rendered duck fat, the same as you can get a stick of butter? What a revelation! That one ingredient added so much flavor to the simple dish – and then the potatoes were drizzled with truffle oil. Does it get more decadent than that? This course was also served with baguette slices and French butter to smear on them. Let me tell you, that butter was THE BEST butter I have ever tasted. It was President brand, made in France with big crystals of sea salt. I kind of wanted to just eat a big spoonful of the butter alone, it was that good. It reminds me of one of the early scenes in the movie version of Julie and Julia, when Julia Child is served her first French meal – fish in a beurre blanc sauce, and she leans over and simply exclaims, “Butter!” It was that good.

Finally came dessert, a vanilla soufflé with crème anglaise sauce. Need I even say more? I did learn about vanilla bean paste, which is just the inside of the vanilla beans that you usually have to scrape out, mixed with a little water and sugar and bottled. So good, and so convenient. The neat thing about the class is that it took place over the Central Market grocery store, so after I was able to go buy the garlic toasts, the butter, and the vanilla bean paste. A quick comment of the soufflé – now, it was delicious, there is no denying that. However, to me it tasted an awful lot like a Dutch baby, which I have mentioned in previous blogs. Plus, Dutch babies are much less labor intensive – I do not see why I couldn’t just make a Dutch baby, top it was crème anglaise, and call it a night. In fact, I plan to do exactly that this weekend. Yum.

The whole class was a great experience, and I hope I get to do something like it again. My dad and I both really enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot in the process. Overall, a success!

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