Rouxbe Postmortem

It’s been a while since I completed my Rouxbe Professional Cook Certification course. I have had an opportunity to reflect on the program; as well as put some of my new-found skills to use. Overall, my experience was a positive one. I gained a wealth of culinary knowledge; I improved as a cook, and gained confidence in the kitchen. More…
It’s been a while since I completed my Rouxbe Professional Cook Certification course. I have had an opportunity to reflect on the program; as well as put some of my new-found skills to use.

Overall, my experience was a positive one. I gained a wealth of culinary knowledge; I improved as a cook, and gained confidence in the kitchen. I have to give credit to my main instructor for being supportive, yet critical, and taking the time to see me as an individual even though the course is all online—not an easy task!

And so I cook. As much as I can. This is not to say that every meal is a gourmet one, but you might be surprised at how many are! I have a better understanding of the fundamentals of cooking, of layering flavor, of seasoning correctly and at the appropriate time, of how you cook something makes all the difference in the final dish, and so much more.

If I had it to do all over again, I would go about it a bit differently, but hindsight is always 20/20.

  • I would only sign up for a course at a better time for me. Taking off two months during the summer made the rest of the course much more stressful than it need be.
  • I would take more notes. There was so much valuable information that would be good to review every now and again.
  • I would print off every recipe task. I know this seems like a waste of paper, but with rare exception, all the recipes are well worth trying. And if you want to keep the skills you learn in this program, pulling out two or three tasks that you can schedule into your weekly meal plan will keep you from slipping back into your old ways.
  • I would have taken more pictures of all my work, graded assignments and tasks alike. It is fun to flip through them now and see my progression as a cook.

It turns out that this course, while done, is far from over in terms of the impact it has had on my life. I take more care and focus when cooking, but in a more relaxed state of mind. I have always loved food, but now I appreciate it.

All Good Things Must…

gradcome to an end start somewhere.

I knew this day would come eventually, but I am sad none the less. I really enjoyed the Professional Cook Certification program through Rouxbe. I think the idea of learning to cook no matter your location is grand. I think that feedback and community takes it even farther. I think that cooking from your heart nourishes the soul–not only the cook–but for those that share in the experience. And I cannot thank Rouxbe enough for having provided the means to just that. More…

gradcome to an end start somewhere.

I knew this day would come eventually, but I am sad none the less. I really enjoyed the Professional Cook Certification program through Rouxbe. I think the idea of learning to cook no matter your location is grand. I think that feedback and community takes it even farther. I think that cooking from your heart nourishes the soul–not only the cook–but for those that share in the experience. And I cannot thank Rouxbe enough for having provided the means to just that.

A recipe has no soul, you as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.
~Thomas Keller

I learned a lot about cooking, my final grade was 99% in the course overall. I gained a ton of confidence in the kitchen, and I am inspired to cook more. I am off now; to cook with wild abandonment. Adieu!

grades

The End Is Near

finished

As part of my final unit, there was another Black Box assignment, which I both dreaded and stayed up all night excited about. For this assignment, I had to prepare three recipes highlighting specific ingredients as part of each recipe. In the end, the three recipes provided a composed dish. More...

As part of my final unit, there was another Black Box assignment, which I both dreaded and stayed up all night excited about.  For this assignment, I had to prepare three recipes highlighting specific ingredients as part of each recipe. In the end, the three recipes provided a composed dish. I had to use a lean protein in the main entree prepared using a dry heat cooking method, a side dish that included a legume, grain, pasta or starch dish that contained vegetables and included knife cut techniques, and another side that celebrated the vibrancy of a green, yellow, or red vegetable. In each, I had to explain the flavor profile, ingredients used and why, and skill techniques used.Here is my final black box assignment–Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems–in probably more detail than you actually need, or want!Roasted Chicken Thigh: Mise en Place

chicken_mise

To make this rustic chicken thigh, I took a nod from provincial France. I used lemon thyme as an aromatic and oil, salt, and pepper to bring out the sweet saltiness of the chicken skin. When the chicken was done roasting, I then used the pan drippings and stock to make a concentrated jus to lap over the thigh. With the exception of cooking four thighs, all other ingredients were to taste and not measured in exact amounts.

Roasted Chicken Thigh: In Process

chicken_in

To begin, I oiled the chicken and then seasoned with salt and pepper on both sides. I then added the chicken, skin side down, to the pan and pan fried until the skin gave way. I then turned the chicken over, added the lemon thyme, and popped in the oven to roast. By pan frying the chicken, I was able to brown the skin and immediately infuse flavor and moisture into the meat. The roasting of the meat allowed for gentle heat to penetrate and cook the meat without drying it out.

Once the chicken was done roasting, I removed the pan from the oven and put the chicken on a tray and tented to rest. I removed most of the accumulated oil and added the stock to deglaze the pan. This allowed me to reap the benefits of the concentrated flavors of the bits on the bottom of the pan. I then cooked the stock and sucs down to create a pan sauce. Right before plating, I added a nob of butter to the jus for a bit of shine and richness.

Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: Mise en Place

aduki_mise
To make the aduki bean/veg hash, I finely minced lemon thyme and tarragon. I then cut the onion in a brunoise as they were there for flavor (not texture) and almost melted into the dish, and the potato and yam in a small dice so that they were large enough not to fall apart during cooking and provide a nice visual accent. I roughly chopped the spinach so that it would end up similar in size to the other components of the dish, and drained the aduki beans. For this dish, I used equal parts of all veg and beans and seasoned as I went; layering the seasoning so as to not over salt at the end. The flavor profile of this dish also echos a french style; loosely based on the the concept of fine herbs.

Aduki Bean/Veggie Hash: In Process

aduki_in
To make the hash, I began by sweating the onions over low heat to coax out the sweetness without adding color. I then added the white potatoes and turned up the heat to cook a bit. After a few minutes, I added the yams, stirred, and put a lid on the pan in order to steam the veg to soften and cook through. Once the potatoes and yams were almost cooked through, I added the thyme as it is hardy. I took the lid off, added salt, the aduki beans, and spinach; stirring until heated through. I then added the fragile tarragon at the last minute. I stirred the hash and tasted for final seasoning which included a bit more salt and a fair amount of pepper.

Braised Broccoli Stems: Mise en Place

broc_mise

In order to make the braised broccoli stems, the first thing I had to do was to slice the stems into very thin slices. While I might have been able to do this by hand, it seemed inefficient. I used a mandolin to provide even, exact, precise cuts. Once the broccoli stem was prepared it was simply a matter of gathering about three tablespoons of butter, some stock, and salt and pepper. In the end, it is not a precise science on the the ingredients as the amount of stem varies on the individuality of size of each stem. In this instance, I used two stems.

Braised Broccoli Stems: In Process

broc_in

To braise the broccoli stems, I began by sautéeing the finely-sliced stems in butter. This brought out a bit of natural sweetness. Once the stems were well coated and heated through, I seasoned with salt, added stock, and began simmering slowly in a very little liquid; adding additional liquid as needed until the stems were cooked through and a bit of a sauce was created via the butter and stock being reduced. This allowed the flavor to concentrate in overall sweetness while at the same time mellowing any bitterness.

Roasted Chicken with Aduki Bean Hash & Braised Broccoli Stems: Composed Dish

finished

I chose to make this composed dish for more than one reason. I am an advocate of using product head-to-tail; even when it comes to vegetables. I also believe that eating outstanding meals should not have to be cost-prohibitive. And lastly, and equally important, I believe that food that is good for you CAN taste incredible. I have been to too many restaurants that tout healthy food that just tastes bland. By utilizing the correct cooking method, looking at the nutrition within the ingredients, and coaxing out the best flavors from each ingredient, I hoped to produce a stellar meal that debunked that idea that healthy food has to be boring. And if I could do this on the cheap, utilizing things that many throw away—all the better!

After evaluating all the options out there—and there are SO many—I decided to go with the humble chicken. Where I live, chicken thigh is very inexpensive and readily available. It just so happens that the thigh is also very flavorful and moist. Decision made! As for the hash, I happen to love the natural sweetness of aduki beans and find that they pair well with many dishes, but I deliberately chose them for the hash as it might be something that you would have left over in your fridge—much like the other ingredients in the hash. A few handfuls of spinach, a single yam, and a couple of potatoes in the cupboard, along with herbs that are growing in the window; all perfect for this flavorful, yet nutritious medley. And then there was the broccoli…a few years ago while going to the farmer’s market in my community, we started experimenting with using every part of the veg we bought. With rare exception, all went well, but in regards to the braised broccoli stem, “well” is an understatement. I would put it in the category of deep-fried carrot chips—addictive! If you have not tried either, DO. Given that I was trying to create a meal that was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and visuals,AND that was nutrition and possible on almost any budget, chicken thigh, beans, potatoes, greens, and the stem of something most toss out were more than symbiotic.

In order for the meal to be a success, I had to coax out as much flavor from the chicken as possible by pan frying and roasting; in addition to utilizing the pan drippings for a sauce. The hash had to be flavorful and beautiful as it was providing quite a bit of the color on the plate. By sweating the onion and steaming the potatoes and yam, I did not mute those colors. And the broccoli stem had to be cooked to perfection so that each bit was tender and sweet. By braising the broccoli, I was able to control the texture and season as needed.

By setting up my mise en place for each component up front, I was able to evaluate where to start next with a clear understanding of the steps involved. I started the chicken first, then the hash, and lastly the broccoli, and was able to tent the chicken while making the pan jus and finalizing the other dishes. The finished dish was garnished with raw broccoli flower tips on the broccoli stems and a flavorful jus that brought the whole dish together. In the end, the dish was a success as well as the black box assignment.

Molecular Gastronomy T-day

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Plating Assignment: 4 of 4
I made a turkey and stuffing terrine with Brussels sprouts petals, carrot caviar, panko-crusted mashed potato sticks with gravy spheres, all atop a bed of herbed noodles. It took all day and tons of chemicals including agar agar, sodium alginate, calcium lactate, and soy lecithin, but it was really fun! More…

Plating Assignment: 4 of 4

I made a turkey and stuffing terrine with Brussels sprouts petals, carrot caviar, panko-crusted mashed potato sticks with gravy spheres, all atop a bed of herbed noodles. It took all day and tons of chemicals including agar agar, sodium alginate, calcium lactate, and soy lecithin, but it was really fun!

In terms of design, it was a matter of laying out the food in the center; using the noodles and caviar to lead your eyes around the plate. It is a more modern approach to plating, but seemed to fit the elements on the plate. The color of the noodles and the carrot caviar really pop on the plate (no pun intended) and offer a much needed contrast from the subdued colors of the potato stick and turkey and stuffing terrine.

tday

Lemongrass Ginger Chicken with Rice Palou & Ginger-infused Carrots

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Plating Assignment: 3 of 4
This flavorful go-to meal consisted of pan-fried chicken medallions with a light ghee sauce that included minced ginger and lemongrass, a baked rice that included coconut milk, green onions and cilantro, as well as infused carrots that had been simmered in lemongrass and ginger. The meal came together quickly and with little fuss. While the rice was baking in the oven and the carrots simmering away, I was able to turn my attention to the cooking of the protein. If it doesn’t smell right, it rarely is. More…

Plating Assignment: 3 of 4

This flavorful go-to meal consisted of pan-fried chicken medallions with a light ghee sauce that included minced ginger and lemongrass, a baked rice that included coconut milk, green onions and cilantro, as well as infused carrots that had been simmered in lemongrass and ginger. The meal came together quickly and with little fuss. While the rice was baking in the oven and the carrots simmering away, I was able to turn my attention to the cooking of the protein.

To plate the meal, I used the classical plating technique of visualizing a clock with the starch between 8 and 12, the veg between 12 and 4 and main between 4 and 8 (all approximates that overlap to some degree); always keeping the center of the plate in mind and minimizing the space between each component. I stacked the protein for additional height and added some crispy onion for texture.

chicken

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

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Plating Assignment: 2 of 4
This savory butternut squash soup consisted of a laundry list of ingredients including butternut squash, bitter kale, and salty bacon. In addition, I added sage and Eastern spices. In the process of making the soup, I used the following techniques: sweating of mirepoix, reducing of wine, skimming of impurities, simmering of soup, blanching of kale, pureeing of soup, sautéing of sage. Cooking the soup was really a matter of cooking ingredients (sometimes separate, sometimes together), layering flavors, and tasting as I went. I also relied on my nose to help me as I went. If it doesn’t smell right, it rarely is. More…

Plating Assignment: 2 of 4

This savory butternut squash soup consisted of a laundry list of ingredients including butternut squash, bitter kale, and salty bacon. In addition, I added sage and Eastern spices. In the process of making the soup, I used the following techniques: sweating of mirepoix, reducing of wine, skimming of impurities, simmering of soup, blanching of kale, pureeing of soup, sautéing of sage. Cooking the soup was really a matter of cooking ingredients (sometimes separate, sometimes together), layering flavors, and tasting as I went. I also relied on my nose to help me as I went. If it doesn’t smell right, it rarely is.

Blanching the kale was important to the final visual of the soup to add another color. The final dish looked inviting and smelled slightly exotic. I added small fried potato cubes to the warmed bowls at the end and sprinkled a bit of the leftover bacon bits and crispy sage; adding some height to the dish. The spice level was perfect and the potatoes and sage added wonderful texture and variation in color that I think the soup needed.

box3

Beef Tenderloin with Creamy Polenta & Fresh Greens

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Plating Assignment: 1 of 4
This meal was exactly what I needed today. Warm, creamy polenta is perfect on a cold, rainy day especially when paired with a tender cut of beef. I simmered the polenta for a little over a half hour at which point, I turned my attention to the protein. After searing the tenderloin, while allowing it to rest, I deglazed the pan with some stock and shallots. Once reduced, I added a knob of butter and set aside. More…

Plating Assignment: 1 of 4

This meal was exactly what I needed today. Warm, creamy polenta is perfect on a cold, rainy day especially when paired with a tender cut of beef. I simmered the polenta for a little over a half hour at which point, I turned my attention to the protein. After searing the tenderloin, while allowing it to rest, I deglazed the pan with some stock and shallots. Once reduced, I added a knob of butter and set aside.

I dressed the salad with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper along with a some colorful baby tomatoes. The acidity of the tomatoes was more than enough for the salad. I plated the polenta first, and then the salad and tenderloin. Lastly, I spooned a bit of the shallot jus over the beef. Had I had more, I probably would have poured it over the polenta as well. By plating in the order I did, I was able to achieve a bit of height and flow so that your eye starts at the beef and ends of the polenta; which echos my taste buds desires!

beef