Wednesday, December 13, 2017

French Cooking Class - Fish

For two weeks we cooked fish. We learned a lot about what to look for in purchasing fish and of course how to cook it.

In our first class on fish, we learned what to look for when buying fish fillets or whole fish.

We sauted some trout in brown butter, lemon and capers and served it over rice with soft skillet fried croutons. We also made a clam chowder and a dish with fish and vegetables baked in parchment with wine. The fish dishes were both light and filling and easy to cook.

The second class, we made a flounder with mushroom sauce, a red pepper risotto, a lobster bisque and a salmon salad on crouton. The lobster bisque is very labor intensive. It's not really difficult to make but definitely time consuming. The risotto was also a bit labor intensive but 2 cups of arborio rice easily fed 12 people.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

French Cooking Class - Potato

It's week 8 of the French cooking class and we made 6 dishes with potatoes. Yep, 6 different dishes and it's the week after Thanksgiving and I'm pretty sure I don't want any more potatoes for at least 2 weeks.

We learned how to "turn" potatoes and make little footballs. This is an effort to make all your potatoes the same size so they cook evenly. We also made a spicy sweet potato soup, mashed potatoes, a gratin with rosemary and Gruyere, potatoes anna, and latkes. I'd say the most time consuming to make were the potatoes anna and latkes. The anna dish requires the potatoes to be sliced on a mandolin very thinly, layered around a skillet with clarified butter then baked. The latkes were made using shredded onion and potatoes on a box grater, squeezing the water out then frying. Of course a food processor would've saved us some time on the grating but we do things by hand so we learn. We also made a tossed salad with a honey mustard vinaigrette and some cooked apples.

Everything we made was quite good and carb loaded. I'll definitely be making more gratins and latkes in the future just to switch it up from a french fry or baked potato.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Turkey Stock

A lot of people are intimidated by gravy but you don't have to be. Once you do it, you'll see how easy it can be. Two things you MUST have when making a really good gravy is stock and brown bits. So in order to get ready for our gravy we need to make stock.

Yes, you can buy turkey or chicken stock to make this and you can even start with turkey stock from the store or start with water. Either one is fine but the stock you make at home will be 10x more flavorful then the store bought stock. And that's what you want - flavor.

So in my stock, I'm going to start with turkey stock bought at the store instead of water. I figure the more layers of flavor I can add to the stock the merrier. The purchased turkey stock (pictured below) was a nice dark color, which I was pretty happy with. You can use this as is or reduce it further to concentrate the flavor but I'm going to add more meat and vegetables.

I bought 4 turkey legs and 4 thighs for my stock but I also had in my freezer 3 chicken carcasses (2 uncooked and 1 from a store bought roasted chicken) along with some wings. I started by lightly coating the raw poultry in some olive oil then I sprinkled them with salt, pepper and sage and I put all the parts onto a cookie sheet and roasted them at 450 for 45min. - to 1 hour.

I got a lot of brown bits on the cookie sheet. Do not throw out the brown bits. That's flavor and that my friend is what makes gravy.  Deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine or even water will work and scrape those bits into a bowl.

Next, in a large stock pot, saute the onion, carrot, leeks and celery until the onion is starting to brown. Add your roasted poultry and add enough liquid (purchased stock  and/or water) until it covers the whole thing by an inch or so. You can use a lot of different vegetables and even herbs if you want to but for this stock, I went with just the basic veg and meat.

Now, simmer the stock. Do not boil. Simmer the stock and don't stir it for about 3 hours. During the 3 hours you can skim any fat that comes to the top and use that fat when you make the gravy. After the 3 hours is up, you can drain off the stock and start the process again starting with cold water. Take the meat off the turkey legs/thighs that you roasted earlier and pop those bones back into the stock pot. In the picture below, you can see that the stock reduced around 2 inches from where it started.

The second batch of stock may look really cloudy but that's okay. It probably won't be as dark as the first batch of stock but it will still have good flavor.

Once your stock is cooled let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top and you can skim that off and use the fat to start the roux for your gravy. The stock will now look and shake like brown turkey flavored jello. It may look scary and weird but that's what it's supposed to do. The gelatin in the bones sets the stock up like... well jello. Below is a picture of the stock after 3 hours of simmering with the fat layer at the top.

Friday, November 17, 2017

French Cooking Class - Sauces

At my cooking class, we learned how to make emulsion type sauces. We learned how to make a hollandaise sauce, which we put over the classic poached egg and toast.

We also made a mayonnaise and roasted potatoes.

And we made a white wine sauce for our hamburgers with caramelized onions, along with a ceasar salad with dressing. All of that was in just one day! Needless to say, I'm usually stuffed at the end of class.

The following week was salad week and all we did was chop a lot of veggies and make salad dressings and a pumpkin soup. It was definitely a lighter meal but I was still just as full.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Countdown

It's less then two weeks before T-giving and I'm on cooking duty this year. It's been a few years since I've cooked and I've been taking a french cooking class so I'm ready to start planning and start cooking. We also have a couple of people with food allergies, so I try to be mindful of what everyone can or cannot have and make sure there's something for everyone.

There will be some new items this year and of course some traditional. I like to change things up a bit but others don't want anything but the same thing year after year but since I'm cooking it's my house, my food, my rules.

If you've never cooked Thanksgiving before here's a few tips:

Plan Ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to go shopping. Make a list of what dishes you're serving, under that write down your shopping list and under that list keep your recipes. Then under the recipes or next to them, write down the day you're going to make them. Also, find that roasting pan, gravy boat and extra plates and platters. Don't wait until the night before to find something.

Fresh Turkey. The holidays are a special time of year. Order a fresh free range bird that's dispatched the day before you pick it up. It won't cost $.99 per lb. but it's worth it. Also, let your turkey REST for at least 45 minutes after cooking.

Make 75% of your dishes before Thanksgiving. Have dishes prepared early and reheat on Thanksgiving. For example, make desserts, stuffing, gravy, casseroles and bread a few days before and reheat. Who wants to be making gravy (assuming you do) in dress clothes when everyone is sitting around the table. No thanks. Also, if you accidentally burn something you still have time to remake it or get something from the store.

Fresh Herbs. If possible use some fresh herbs such as thyme and sage. They will enhance any stuffing, gravy or bird.

Compound Butter. A compound butter is butter flavored with something, usually fresh herbs. At least 24 hours before cooking the bird. Take 2 sticks of butter, room temperature, and mix in some fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary (or any combo), about 1 Tbls of garlic some lemon juice and salt and pepper. Let this sit for 24 hours and use it under the skin of the turkey, inside the cavity, on bread rolls or even in the gravy.

Hopefully you'll give some of my tips a try this year if you're the one doing the planning and cooking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Paradise in Bloom Quilt

When I first started learning how to sew, I decided to learn paper piecing. Paper piecing is very easy to learn. It's learning how to sew pieces of fabric together in a certain order and you sew them together by sewing on lines printed on the paper. Yes, you sew on a line so everything is straight and everything lines up fairly easily.

My first paper piecing pattern, was the 4th of July quilt pattern by Judy Niemeyer from Quiltworx. The hardest part is literally getting all the fabric cut and taking off the paper. But I learned a lot about 1/4" seams, trimming, sewing and piecing all the parts together. I thought the instructions for the pattern was really well done and was easy for a non-sewer to follow. After the 4th of July quilt and my sewing skills improved, I got another pattern called Amazon Star. This was a very, very big quilt. I think it was 98x98" and I really didn't like handling something that big. That one taught me that I don't like Y seams. I got them done but barely. It turned out good but I certainly couldn't quilt it.

So it's been several years since the Amazon Star and I've been looking at the pattern called Paradise in Bloom for several years now. Now, it seems manufacturers are including a lot of pre-cuts of the applique pieces which of course is driving prices up. The pattern used to be around $99.00 but the pre-cuts ran it up to more like $150.00. I know you get a lot for that but that's a lot for a pattern and foundation papers so I never bought it.

Until recently.

I found the pattern with no precuts and no extra sheets for the extra border so it was just the main pattern. I've waited a long time for it and I'm ready for another paper piecing quilt. So I bit the bullet.

Here's a picture of the finished Paradise in Bloom Quilt. This shows the extra border, which I'm not interested in. I'll probably add a border but I'll do my own.

Now, I just have to figure out what colors I want to do it in and go buy fabric. I'll probably have about 20-25 yards of fabric in it along with some blood, sweat and tears no doubt by time it's finished.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Over the last few weeks of cooking class we've been learning how to make different stocks, binding of sauces and of course soup! We made 6 six soups last week and I got pictures of 4 of them below. We also made a salad with dressing and homemade butter to add to our bread.

We made a potato leek and a celery soup...

and a spicy vegetable soup with pesto..

... and a parsnip and pear soup with apple cider reduction. We also made a french onion and cauliflower soup which I didn't get pictures of. I've learned already after just 4 weeks of class to not eat breakfast (or very little) on Tuesdays. All of the soups were really good and I'm looking forward to more classes.