Back to School

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Today marks a very important day. I have decided to go back to school–culinary school; online culinary school. “WHAT,” you say? That’s right; I have enrolled in the future of food through Rouxbe.com. I have started my first unit in a 27-unit course entitled Professional Cook’s Certification Course. More…

Today marks a very important day. I have decided to go back to school–culinary school; online culinary school. “WHAT,” you say? That’s right; I have enrolled in the future of food through Rouxbe.com. I have started my first unit in a 27-unit course entitled Professional Cook’s Certification Course. It is a six-month course that according to the company, “…charts a new path for cooks that want to learn to develop their craft. Equally suited for culinary students wanting to enter the industry, working cooks looking for professional development, or even serious home cooks that want to develop their culinary skills, this course introduces and reinforces fundamental techniques and knowledge needed in today’s kitchens.”Along with taking this course, I plan on jotting down my overall thoughts, detailed opinions, and good, bad, and ugly experiences over the next six months. So let’s get started…

Today, I waited not-so-patiently for my class to become available. I had received an email yesterday letting me know that by the end of today, I would be granted access. And true to their word, at approximately 1:45pm PT today, I was in! I actually had butterflies in my stomach as I signed in. I really take this seriously.

While I have received no monetary compensation from Rouxbe.com, I have been an avid supporter since I first became acquainted with them in 2008. I was on holiday in Victoria, BC enjoying a relaxing late-night dinner at the Fire & Water Fish & Chop House. Along with receiving our receipt after dinner, we were also given an business-sized card with in free trial on a online cooking website. I was intrigued and pocketed the invite. Upon getting back the States, I put the card my to-do pile and actually forgot about it for a month or two. But when it resurfaced, I took the plunge. I signed up and really liked what I saw. There were areas that were still under construction, but the tutorials that were there, were in-depth, easy to follow, and relevant. I was hooked. I bought a membership for myself and my daughter. After just a few lessons on techniques such as braising, brining, and butter sauces, I had gained so much confidence in the kitchen; it was quite liberating.

Since that time, I have taken 20 of the 79 lessons available (to date) on various cookery subjects and have never been disappointed. I like the format and the video instruction, and well as the testing component that helps with retention. At some point, Rouxbe’s business model evolved, funding followed (I assume), and development ensued. I was lucky enough to be take part in the beta testing and could not wait for the new courses to become available.

I know I sound like a salesperson for this company, but really I am more like a salesperson for cooking real food–at home. Rouxbe just happens to be the tool that propelled my confidence in the kitchen. And with its new full-blown courses, I am now inspired to advance my culinary skills. And who knows where that will take me…

One Potato, Two Potato

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I had my first assignment in my cookery class. I was asked to make my favorite go-to meal. I have to admit, it was not easy deciding what to cook. My go-to meal changes periodically, but I finally decided on Potato Leek Soup. In the process of making the soup, I was to take a picture of my prepared ingredients, a shot during the cooking process, and one of the final dish. I woke up this morning and headed to the store to get my ingredients. The store is pretty empty in the morning; I will have to remember that. The soup does not have that many ingredients so shopping took no more than five minutes. I headed home, unpacked, and got started. More…
I had my first assignment in my cookery class.  I was asked to make my favorite go-to meal. I have to admit, it was not easy deciding what to cook. My go-to meal changes periodically, but I finally decided on Potato Leek Soup. In the process of making the soup, I was to take a picture of my prepared ingredients, a shot during the cooking process, and one of the final dish. I woke up this morning and headed to the store to get my ingredients. The store is pretty empty in the morning; I will have to remember that. The soup does not have that many ingredients so shopping took no more than five minutes. I headed home, unpacked, and got started.The first step was to prepare the mise en place–which means “putting in place”– and take a picture. No problem!

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The next step was to actually cook the soup; again, no problem. It was just a matter of sweating the leeks, potatoes, and celery with some salt and pepper for about 10 minutes, adding white wine and reducing, and then adding the water and simmering for another 20 minutes.

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The last step was to puree about two cups of the soup in a blender and add back in to the soup. I then made some crispy leeks for garnish and bread for dipping. I snapped a picture of the final dish, and not wanting it to go to waste, ate it for breakfast.

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It was delicious–even in the wee hours of the morning. The description I used on the assignment sums it up rather nicely: This deceivingly simple soup is rich without being too thick. With only six main ingredients including ghee, Yukon gold potatoes, leeks, celery, white wine, and water (not including salt and pepper), this soup is quick to prep, simple to cook, and heavenly to eat. The addition of crispy leeks and grilled bread provides a satisfying meal on a crisp spring day like today!

Getting Started!

The second unit got down and dirty about food and kitchen safety and cleanliness. I learned something that I had not even remotely known before regarding rice. Did you know that Bacillus cereus is a pathogen found in rice? B. cereus is killed by heat, but its spores are not. If rice is not cooled and stored properly, the spores can emerge from dormancy and contaminate the rice, causing foodborne illness. This is something I will not soon forget as I make rice often and have probably been putting my family at risk. Who knew? Obviously not me!That was not the end of interesting tid bits discussed in Unit Two. More…
My online cookery schooling is going well so far. I have completed two units out of 27 and even got to cook and write about Potato Leek Soup. While the first two units were about basic information, it was actually informative stuff.The first unit went over course expectations and gave everyone an idea of how the program will work and the model it was based on called the Map of Cooking. Basically, to paraphrase, the Map of Cooking will help me make more informed decisions, decipher recipes, apply the right technique, better understand flavor development—and ultimately, help me understand the world of food and cooking better. In addition, we went over kitchen tools and equipment, and a bit of insight into the kitchen of a restaurant and its inhabitants.

The second unit got down and dirty about food and kitchen safety and cleanliness. I learned something that I had not even remotely known before regarding rice. Did you know that Bacillus cereus is a pathogen found in rice? B. cereus is killed by heat, but its spores are not. If rice is not cooled and stored properly, the spores can emerge from dormancy and contaminate the rice, causing foodborne illness. This is something I will not soon forget as I make rice often and have probably been putting my family at risk. Who knew? Obviously not me!

That was not the end of interesting tid bits discussed in Unit Two. I went on to learn the correct way to wash my hands, how to buy and store food, ways to keep food safe while preparing, how best to clean up, and the plethora of ways you can get hurt in the kitchen—if you are not careful.

This info may seem a bit dry, but it really wasn’t. I attribute this to two things:

  1. The way it was presented through various types of content including written word, videos, and interactive game-like snippets, sporadic quizzes, and feedback.
  2. Once you start reading a little bit about how things can go innocently awry, you sit up and take notice.

As of today, I have finished two units,  completed one assignment, taken a few quizzes, and aced one exam. Go me! I am excited for tomorrow when I start Unit Three: Knives, Knife Cuts, and Knife Sharpening and will participate in the first live interaction with the group via the web.

Sharpening My Skills

vegcutsI have spent the last few days slicing, dicing, and chopping, all in an attempt to perfect my knife skills. It started with cutting through flour with a pastry scraper for about a half an hour as lookers-on shook their heads in confusion. It may have looked odd, but it really did help perfect the rolling action but without a doubt it was even more helpful in adjusting to the proper position of my guide hand and its precious fingers. It took quite a while to get the hang of the connection between my guide-knuckle and the pastry scraper. To be honest, I am still working on it, but with each assignment, I am getting more and more comfortable with it. From experience with several unintended slices and dices to my own fingers, I can tell you that learning proper technique is paramount. More…
I have spent the last few days slicing, dicing, and chopping, all in an attempt to perfect my knife skills. It started with cutting through flour with a pastry scraper for about a half an hour as lookers-on shook their heads in confusion. It may have looked odd, but it really did help perfect the rolling action but without a doubt it was even more helpful in adjusting to the proper position of my guide hand and its precious fingers. It took quite a while to get the hang of the connection between my guide-knuckle and the pastry scraper. To be honest, I am still working on it, but with each assignment, I am getting more and more comfortable with it. From experience with several unintended slices and dices to my own fingers, I can tell you that learning proper technique is paramount. In addition to learning how to keep safe with a knife, there was also time spent practicing how to hone a knife to keep the blade sharp. While a steel cannot sharpen the knife, it can reduce how frequently said blade needs to be sharpened.

From there, I received my first assignment in the unit; to practice my rolling and dicing techniques with onions, tomatoes, celery, and green pepper, and then mix them into a Moroccan couscous dish. I ended up adding a few more ingredients to round out the color. We had it for dinner (and the next day for lunch). For each ingredient, I had to upload an image of the ingredient cut into a small dice as shown below:

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I had a little trouble with the onion and it was no surprise when my instructor subtracted points because of this issue. His comments were constructive and relevant. I felt he was interested in helping me improve my skills. Overall, I got a 91% on the assignment so while the onions got the best of me, I cannot complain, overall.

Knife Cuts

chopToday’s lesson was to cut carrots into 1/4 cups of brunoise, small dice, medium dice, large dice, fine julienne, julienne, and batonnet. It was actually quite a bit of fun and I found that I actually was not too bad at it. My favorite was the brunoise cut. I love it and if I had the time, would use it as a confetti to celebrate each meal. I actually found cutting uniformly to come pretty naturally to me, and much like most cooking, rather relaxing. I may never become a chef, but I will definitely become a better cook. I had to post samples of each of my cuts and describe options for the scrap. More…
Today’s lesson was to cut carrots into 1/4 cups of brunoise, small dice, medium dice, large dice, fine julienne, julienne, and batonnet. It was actually quite a bit of fun and I found that I actually was not too bad at it. My favorite was the brunoise cut. I love it and if I had the time, would use it as a confetti to celebrate each meal. I actually found cutting uniformly to come pretty naturally to me, and much like most cooking, rather relaxing. I may never become a chef, but I will definitely become a better cook. I had to post samples of each of  my cuts and describe options for the scrap.

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Three things that I thought could be made from the left-over carrot trimmings were:

1. blending the trimmings with fruit on hand to make a refreshing and healthy fruit & veg smoothie
2. juicing the trimmings and reduce to make a carrot/vanilla emulsion to pair with black cod
3. using as part of the base for a rich chicken stock

In reality though, I let my instructor know that I would be giving the trimmings to my chickens and they would give me some eggs in return, which I would promptly make into scrambled eggs. As for the leftover brunoised, diced, and julienned carrots, I added them to a sweet potato hash that was already planned as part of dinner. I also left out a few for munching on while cooking.

I am excited for my next activity; learning to use a whet stone to sharpen my knives. This is not a required assignment, but I really would like to learn this talent so I procured one from Amazon and am just waiting for it to arrive…

UPDATE: I aced the knife cuts assignment. I just need to keep practicing so that I do not lose my technique!

Left To My Own Devices

It came! The whet stone arrived; even a day early. Amazon is the best; at least when you live on an island and there are no malls or departments stores available without a ferry ride. I decided to wait until everyone was gone for the day to begin my lesson in knife sharpening. I soaked the stone as instructed, selected the knifes that I wanted to sharpen as well as one to practice on first. I then turned on some background music and watched the Rouxbe video on using a whet stone. And then I watched it again. And again. More…
It came! The whet stone arrived; even a day early. Amazon is the best; at least when you live on an island and there are no malls or departments stores available without a ferry ride.I decided to wait until everyone was gone for the day to begin my lesson in knife sharpening. I soaked the stone as instructed, selected the knifes that I wanted to sharpen as well as one to practice on first. I then turned on some background music and watched the Rouxbe video on using a whet stone. And then I watched it again. And again.

I realized at one point that I did not need to watch the video again, I needed to take the plunge and try my hand at this. So I placed my soaked whet stone on the coarser grit side on a damp washcloth, placed a dry washcloth nearby, poured a bit of water on top of the stone, and began. I started with an old Henckels knife that I have had for well over 20 years. Wow, writing that now makes me realize that I really should not have complained about that knife being dull. I have never had it professionally sharpened in all those 20 years. Back to the stone, and the sharpening. I thought it was going well. I even tried to practice in stride with the video, but eventually, I just didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I was not getting the bevel that was described. I was bummed, but I continued and eventually at least got a stride down. I decided that I would continue on with the instructions albeit the lack of bevel and started on the other side, and then eventually alternating between the sides as instructed.  And then I turned over the whet stone and glided my knife from side to side on the finer grit side. And then the test, cutting a piece of paper. It worked. Hmmmm, I was not sure what that meant. I was happy that it was sharper, but having not actually done a crucial part correctly, I was confused. And I think I may have scraped up the side of the knife a bit. That’s why I started with that knife; so no complaints!

I did not let this confusion stop me from sharpening two more knifes with elevated success, although I never did get a bevel on any of them. But in the end, all three knifes cut through paper, and tomatoes, like butter. I will now hone my knifes each time I use them to keep their new-found edge, but I honestly am not sure if I really learned how to sharpen knifes correctly. Maybe this is a perfect example of a culinary double edged sword; or maybe not~

Oh, Lucky Me!

I wrapped up the third unit on knives and am now on to Unit Four: Salads & Dressings. Here’s the thing; I love salads. I just also happen to have an aversion to dressings. Maybe I should rephrase that; I actually hate vinegar which happened to be in most vinaigrette and dressing. Before I had started this cookery school, I had decided that I was going to take this opportunity to try a few things that I had swore off. This was one of ingredients on my hit list to try, so I really should have been more excited, right? I even went out of my way to pick vinaigrette options that had vinegar in them as part of my practice assignments. I went to the store and purchased a white wine variety and still feeling positive began making my salad. When the time came to make the mise en place for the dressing, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t do it. The smell…ugh! More…
I wrapped up the third unit on knives and am now on to Unit Four: Salads & Dressings. Here’s the thing; I love salads. I just also happen to have an aversion to dressings. Maybe I should rephrase that; I actually hate vinegar which happened to be in most vinaigrette and dressing. Before I had started this cookery school, I had decided that I was going to take this opportunity to try a few things that I had swore off. This was one of ingredients on my hit list to try, so I really should have been more excited, right? I even went out of my way to pick vinaigrette options that had vinegar in them as part of my practice assignments. I went to the store and purchased a white wine variety and still feeling positive began making my salad. When the time came to make the mise en place for the dressing, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t do it. The smell…ugh!Regardless, the practice recipes included Belgian Endive Salad, Spinach Salad w/ Goat Cheese and a Maple Walnut Vinaigrette, and Salade Lyonnaise. I chose to make Belgian Endive Salad first. I actually wanted to make Salade Lyonnaise, but I did not think I would have any luck finding frisée greens at my local store so that would have to wait until I could go to a real store across the pond. I toasted the walnuts and actually found that they tasted very nice after their time in the oven. I will probably toast them again for other uses. On a side note, I also recently found out that soaking walnuts takes the bitterness away, so if that has been keeping you from eating these nutritional snacks–take them for a dip! Anyway, while the walnuts were toasting, I made the vinaigrette. It consisted of diced shallot mixed with Dijon mustard, sea salt, white pepper, sugar, white wine vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil. It was really easy to come together. To serve, I simply placed the endive leaves on a plate, sprinkled with the walnuts, crumbled some blue cheese on top, and drizzled the vinaigrette atop. While I did not try the completed salad, those who did found it palatable. So while I did not thoroughly enjoy this exercise, I did still learn a few things: toasted walnuts are yummie and dressings and vinaigrettes come together rather easily. If dressing were something I used; I would never buy pre-made again!