Wednesday, May 23, 2018

French Cooking Class - Desserts and the End...

The last 5 or 6 weeks of my cooking class focused on desserts. From classic french pastries such as eclairs and profiteroles to homemade ice cream, cakes, crepes, mousses and souffles. Unfortunately, we didn't get to make macaroons since our instructor is allergic to nuts and therefore almond flour was out but that's okay.

We learned to make pate a choux dough, which is used to make eclairs and profiteroles and of course you can make them savory instead of sweet, which we did by adding cheese. We then used the dough to make a little sandwich with bacon, onion and arugula.

We also made swans out of the choux dough and filled them with pastry cream and dusted them with powdered sugar.


And finally, we made churros from the choux dough as well. We fried them and then tossed them with sugar and cinnamon.

We also made lunch on dessert day since it's hard to eat 8 different kinds of dessert for lunch without throwing up so we made a paella with sausages, chicken, shrimp and mussels. I assure you it was delicious.

On custard day, we made creme anglais to make ice cream and of course we made creme brulee. Those little cups we filled was way too much and none of us actually finished the whole thing. It's a very, very rich dessert.

We also made a baked alaska with meringue. For some reason, I didn't really think I'd like it but this was surprisingly tasty.

And to top that all off we had a strawberry cheesecake with strawberry sauce.

For lunch we made a chicken with clementines, hummus and a barley celery salad with pomegranate seeds and roasted butternut squash with tahini sauce.


On cake day, we made a white cake that tasted like a sugar cookie it was so good and we made little chocolate lava cakes with caramel in the center.  Yeah, it was rough but someone had to eat it all. We made a yellow cake with marshmallow icing and a banana cake with a sour cream chocolate frosting.

We also made lemon glazed madeleines, which were light, lemony and  warm from the oven.

Another lunch we made to balance all the sugar was caramel pork ribs and a salad from cabbage and kale. We made caramel and then added beer, bourbon and ketchup and some other ingredients to make the sauce then roasted the pork ribs in the sauce. Yep, it was a good as it sounds.


On tart week, we made sweet and savory tarts and different types of dough. I'm fairly certain everyone liked the apple tart and the shallot tarte tatin the best. We also had a quiche with herbs and cheese that was good too.



We also had a fun filled day of making crepes. We made a 20 layer cake with a pastry cream that was really good and we made crepe suzette.


For lunch we had a spring salad with roasted asparagus, pickled onion, potatoes, peas with a honey dill vinaigrette along with a savory crepe with a filling of mushrooms, ham and cheese.

Our last class was on mousses and souffles. We made a goat cheese souffle, brined and roasted pork belly, green beans, mashed potatoes, chocolate souffle and chocolate mousse and a salad with a creamy mint dressing. Yes another day of eating well.



At our final dinner, we were tasked with coming up with a menu to feed 24 people from all the recipes we've cooked over the last 30 weeks. We had a few cocktails, appetizers, salad, soup, an entree and of course a dessert. We cooked and cleaned for roughly 8 hours. It was exhausting to say the least but we had a great time.

I was originally skeptical about taking a class for 30 weeks but it went by so quickly. I learned a lot and had a great time. I will definitely miss my Tuesday cooking class.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Baby Quilt - Good Morning Sunshine

One of the young women in my cooking class is pregnant with her first child and I decided to make a cute baby quilt for her. I also decided to make something a bit more complicated than sewing 2 pieces of fabric together and putting on a binding. I must like punishment. Anyway, I found this pattern called, Good Morning Sunshine, which is made up of grandmother's fan blocks. I thought it was very pretty and now I have an excuse to do it and since she's having a girl, I settled on creams, browns and various pink/mauve colors.

Warning: This pattern is considered advanced since sewing curved pieces together is really quite a challenge so if you're new to sewing or your skills are rusty, take my advice and run. Just run away from this pattern unless you really want to challenge not only your sewing skills but your patience and your temper. If your okay with that then read on.

The reason why this quilt is so hard to do is because of the two pieces that you need to sew together are different sizes so that means you have to "ease" fabric from the bigger piece to the small piece and it is hard. You almost always wind up with extra tucks all along your seam.

There's a few tips to get these next pieces to go together without any tucks happening but it's really a crap shoot. All you can do is the best you can and hope for the best. I think every one I sewed together had a tuck somewhere and I was really happy with just one or two.

Tip No. 1: Sew from the center to edge on one side then flip it over and sew from the center to the edge on the other end. Do not try to sew the whole thing at once.

Tip No. 2: Sew slowly. Straighten fabric. Sew slowly. Straighten fabric and repeat.

I got all the fabric pieces cut out and I got the "fan" part sewn together, which is the easy part and I ironed all the seams one direction. But it is very important that all the pieces are exactly the same size as the pattern and its really important that your quarter inch seam is a quarter inch. If your seam is fudged a little here and there then your finished fan is going to be either too big or too small. Either way is a problem.

Now for the hard part....

These are the two pieces I need to sew together. There's a piece with a curve going up and one going down.

I pinned the corner piece to the fan lining up the center. The center is the pin not the red line.

Then I lined up one corner and pinned. Then I started sewing from the CENTER to the corner trying to sew a nice curved line.

I used two additional pins from the center to the corner trying as best as a could to keep the material flat against each other. If you don't, you will most likely have a tuck in the fabric along the seam (the 2 pins are not in the pic above just to show where I started sewing).

After you sew one side from the center to corner, you can repin and sew on the other side center to corner. I needed the extra pins. You really need the extra help to keep everything as flat as possible (see above).

When you first start out sewing curved pieces you will really stink at it. I had about 4 pleats in one block when I started and by the time all the blocks were done I was done to 0 or 1 so a big improvement. I did go back to some the blocks I did first and re-sewed several of them.

Adding on the final section to the outter part of the fan was fairly easy since that was a much bigger longer curve. I first pinned the center, the two ends, then added 2 more pins in each section for a total of 7 pins. I think I had a couple of little tucks but mostly it was smooth sailing.

After all the large and small blocks were finished, I squared each one to the correct size.

Next, I sewed all the large blocks together following the layout of the quilt from the pattern to form the center of the quilt.

Then, I added the solid fabric border on all sides.

The small blocks are for the last border. This border is pretty tricky but here's how I did it.

First, I took one block and sewed on one side of the triangle.

Next, match the fans together so that when everything is sewn, the fans touch at each corner and pin. You don't want to match up the edges of the fabric. That will not match the fan corners and your border will look weird and be too long.

So when you get done sewing your fan corners meet. The instructions simply said, "now sew the fans and triangles together," which when you're the one sewing it all together just isn't all that helpful.

The rest of the quilt went together fairly easily. I did a lot of pinning to get the fan border attached to the solid fabric border and I admit, I had some corners that were kinda wonky but it went together and then I quilted a lot in the area and hid the mistake.

The lady who got the blanket loved it. I explained it was quite painful for me to sew and really challenged my meager skills but that I learned a lot in the process. She sent me a picture with the quilt hanging over the crib in her baby's room and it's nice to know it'll get used. I should've tried it at least once before actually giving it away to someone after my first try but that's okay. I think it turned out pretty good.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

French Cooking Class - Pasta

Fresh pasta is definitely not hard to make but it's a lot more time consuming than opening a box of dried stuff and pouring it into a pot of boiling water. We made two types of pasta a yellow pasta and a semolina pasta. The yellow pasta is literally all purpose flour and egg, while the semolina pasta got semolina and AP flour, eggs, salt and olive oil. This pasta is a little tougher than the yellow pasta.

We made a bolognese with beef and pork, a carbonara with cream, eggs and bacon, a spinach cheese ravioli and a shiitake mushroom pasta sauce.

This class was definitely busy rolling sheets of pasta and making sauces so there was no time to run around taking pictures except when I sat down to enjoy some of the fruits of labor of 8 people. I thought the carbonara or the mushroom sauces would be my favorite but oddly enough it was the bolognese.

If you've never tried making fresh pasta, I would encourage you to try it at least once. And this is something that if you want to go the extra mile to impress a date then making fresh pasta is going to do that. It can be made ahead but fresh pasta dries out very, very quickly so after cutting your pasta make sure you cover it with a damp towel to keep it fresh then cook it closer to mealtime. That way you'll have at least an hour to clean up your kitchen.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

French Cooking Class - Eggs

Oh the mighty little egg. Are you good for me or bad for me? I don't know and I don't care. You're delicious and versatile. You will always be welcome in my home. Our egg week consisted of omelettes, Portuguese eggs, deviled eggs with mushrooms and of course poached eggs with hollandaise on toast.

I am of course sorry to say, I completely forgot to take pictures but in my defense, we didn't get to sit down to lunch. We had several plates of goodness eating as dishes were prepared. 

I think the favorite dish we made was the Portuguese eggs. Onions and red peppers (or orange and yellow whatever color you have on had) are sauted in some oil for about 20 minutes until fairly soft. Next, you add some spices. We used oregano, basil, paprika and garlic and 2 diced tomatoes with some tomato paste and you can add some jalapeno or chili flakes for heat. You can always use canned tomatoes too. Then we spread the mixture into a glass baking dish and made wells in the peppers and cracked an egg into the wells, topped with cheese and placed it under the broiler until the eggs were cooked and the cheese all melty and browned. 

We also made a dutch baby. A dutch baby is a thin pancake topped with fruit. It's very easy to make but you should have a cast iron skillet that you can heat in the oven.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

French Cooking Class - Stuffing

This class was a little different. We made a mushroom pate and a chicken liver with red marmalade made out of red onion and raisins. Both were served on toast.


We made a stuffing from beef, sausage and aromatics and stuffed some pieces of zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers.

We also stuffed pieces of beef with sausage and served with vegetables.

We made two dishes using puff pastry. One was topped with caramelized onion, anchovies and black olives and the other we made little pastries filled with cheese and softened leeks and herbs.

And last but not least, we stuffed roasted eggplant with a vegetable herb and cheese mix.

We also made something called socca. It's a thin pancake that's made using chickpea flour, water, olive oil and cumin. You make it like a crepe and broil it in the oven. It's thin like a cracker almost. Surprisingly, quite tasty.  I believe the class really liked the cheese stuffed pastry and the caramelized onion puff pastry the best. Here's a picture of my lunch plate for this class.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

French Cooking Class - Cheese

I've made mozzarella at home once. It turned out kinda hard and dense and it was very labor intensive. It gave me a huge appreciation for that ball of fresh mozzarella you buy in the package for $7 or $8 dollars and I'm fairly sure the price is way too low. But anyway, we made a short cut version of mozzarella in class today and it turned out better. Basically the curd was purchased so we didn't have to separate curds from milk and all we did really was warm it up with fairly hot water so that you could form the curd into a ball shape. No kneading, no pulling and no stretching. If you work and pull the cheese curds then the cheese will get tough so we didn't do any of that. We used a good salt and ate the cheese with tomato slices, basil and balsamic and olive oil.

So our first salad of the day was a fresh caprese salad. We also made a queso fresco, which we crumbled on salad greens with a green onion dressing and fresh made croutons.


We also made a marscapone cheese which we sweetened with a little sugar and vanilla and served that with a fresh made biscotti. This was only slightly sweet and almost refreshing after eating everything else.


We also made labneh, which is a drained yogurt usually with herbs such as mint, oregano, sumac, and chili flakes.

The most labor intensive item for the class was a ricotta gnocchi what everyone helped out with all the cutting and rolling of the little pillows of goodness. And we also made a quick marinara sauce with canned tomatoes, onions, olives and wine. And of course, we made our own naan to go with everything.

This was a very filling class but at least this time the food was on the lighter side with all the fresh cheese.