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Lesson 27 Duck and peasThis is the last demonstration in the course where we will mimic the Chef’s creation in our practical.   It’s tragic that the garnishes are so genuinely ugly and tasteless.  Sorry but you must know the truth, cep flan is quite disgusting and the pea puree looks like it came out of a baby bottom.  Cruel!

Let’s focus on the positively gorgeous little duckling which was cooked in two ways, the legs braised and the breasts roasted.  A great idea to use one protein but deliver two textures on the plate.  This could easily translate to chicken or guinea fowl with equally delicious results.

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Having spent the better part of my life living without gluten I have a fear of making pasta.  Not that I am afraid of pasta but it seems when you can’t taste what you are cooking I fear it will turn out badly.  Cooking involves all the senses and when you eliminate the use of one, in this case taste, you are sorely at a disadvantage.Lesson 25 Ravioli

The fish in our recipe is brill, a flat fish found in the Mediterranean, and is the feature.  A brill has two colors of skin; the face side is brown with a spotty flecked appearance while the back is white.  In classic Escoffier French cuisine the white skin can be presented but not the dark so we are to undertake fileting our fishy friend but we have to remove dark side of the skin.

Flat fish are difficult to filet, and in this case the dark skin must be removed before the flesh can be lifted from the bones.  A lot of tricky knife work?  Not so, a simple slit in the skin near the tail, a little loosening of that skin then drop the knife, grab the skin and pull it off.  Sounds easy, but the fish didn’t really want to give up his skin so easily so it was a bit of an effort.

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Fricandeau - really?

Fricandeau – really?

On occasion, we truly cook some odd things in Superior Cuisine; in this case the oddity was Fricandeau.  Essentially Fricandeau is little ground meat patties, which are fried and served alongside the main event.  In this lesson, we made these patties from the leg of a guinea fowl.

The breast of guinea fowl was roasted on the bone, which means we would portion the whole bird and debone the legs.   The breasts were trussed, seasoned and went into the oven on a bed of chicken wings, mirepoix, including of all ingredients lemongrass, and bones from the legs.  The leg meat was ground and combined with mascarpone cheese, basil and chorizo.  French cooking?  Must be Basque!

A further interesting garnish we cooked was a Green Tomato Royale.  Essentially this is a flan but a “royale” is defined, as have less eggs and cream.   Green tomatoes are fried, spinach is wilted and all is pureed with egg yolks and a little cream.  The green tomato and chlorophyll from spinach keep the vivid green color in tact.  A very distracting element on the plate as the color is a bit too vivid.

Gigi, (aka Cindy) my good friend from Canada, was able to witness the weirdness at the day’s demonstration and also the presentation of our final exam basket of ingredients.  She was glad she wasn’t fed frog’s legs and rabbit!  Mini burgers, if not truly French food, where just fine with her!

I would say most of us were particularly distracted at the beginning of the demonstration by the presentation of the ingredient list we would cook with for the final exam…venison, oysters and macaroni?   So, the strange mini burger was somewhat in the background. I suspect there are some challenging times ahead of me to determine how to make this work for a classic French jury tasting our final dishes!

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In this evenings practical we worked in the large kitchen and the space is such a treat.  The next student feels meters rather than elbows away.  A delightful change that likely won’t be repeated often.

In this lesson we revisit deboning a lamb rack, béchamel sauce and simple French beans with bacon.   A rather straightforward preparation, the lamb is pan seared, then covered with the béchamel laced with truffle and ham and then baked in the oven.

Personally I prefer a straightforward lamb chop cooked to perfection as béchamel is too heavy for my taste.  In fact, I took two lovely chops home and enjoyed them for dinner with a glass of wine and my remaining haricot verts at 21:40 – cuisine students tend to eat quite late if we eat at all.

The fun decorative element we learned to create for our plates was a purple potato crisp.  Purple potatoes are quite starchy in texture but have no true difference in flavour to regular potatoes.  Their uniqueness lies solely in their color.

Easily made in advance, purple potato crisps can be cut in a multitude of shapes using a knife or cookie cutter.  The process is so simple yet the effect could be magnificent on the right dish.  I’m thinking stars for New Year’s Eve this year….

Purple Potato Crisps

Ingredients

250 g purple potatoes

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

Salt

Method

Set your over to 90 to 100 C

  1. Peel potatoes and place in a saucepan of cold water
  2. Bring to a boil and add 2 to 3 tsp. of salt
  3. Cook until tender then drain; return to the warm saucepan and set on the stove for a minute to dry out the potatoes
  4. Puree the potatoes using a food mill, ricer or pressing through a tamis
  5. Incorporate 1 tbsp. butter
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment and plop potatoes in the center; cover with a second sheet of parchment
    1. Using a rolling pin, roll out the potatoes very thin; 1 mm to 2 mm thick
    2. Use a knife or cookie cutter to create shapes in the potato “pastry”
    3. Bake in the oven until very dry; cool and break out the shapes
    4. Channel “Picasso” and decorate your plate!

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It’s cold, grey and rainy today – a good day for soup!  There is nothing more inviting in the midst of a lazy Sunday than to smell the aromas of spices and sweet vegetables throughout the house.  One of my all-time favorites, butternut squash and apple bisque, delivers sweet mouthfuls of goodness with a good boost from cinnamon and nutmeg.  This soup makes an excellent first course to a special fall meal or a lovely luncheon main and although the results are impressive it is deceptively easy to cook.

I first started making this soup in Canada during the fall when I lived in to my first apartment with my good friend Jill.   We were both novice cooks, liked to experiment with wholesome foods and share our creations.  Both of us loved the sweet flavours in this soup so we looked forward to enjoying a bowl and a good gab. Jill’s most memorable creation for me was a soft goat cheese, raisin and spice carrot sandwich.  Years later I found a similar recipe for such a sandwich on the internet and as you would guess I make myself.  Delicious!   She was definitely on to something.

Butternut squash is best in the fall so now is the time to enjoy this gem.  MaryFrances has created a couple of gorgeous wine pairings that will send you into heaven.  I wish you a happy fall enjoying all the beautiful produce and look forward to cooking with you soon.

Continue for recipe and here for a lovely wine pairing

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The weather has begun to turn cool here in Amsterdam, which means I can indulge in comforting bistro fare once again.   An impressive preparation for pork, but easy to prepare, is a brined crown roast.  We are fortunate here that our butcher will sell us small portioned roasts of 3 to 4 ribs which is perfect for a small dinner party.

We had guests from overseas recently whom I would send out into Amsterdam unaccompanied, as I had to work.  The forecast didn’t look promising, rain, cold and gloom, but no one visits Amsterdam for the weather.  Off they went, raincoats sweaters and umbrellas in hand to tour the 9 streets, Anne Frank Huis and my favorite pub Café Arendsnest.  The Arendsnest means eagles nest in Dutch and is a wonderful place to spend a sunny or a rainy afternoon with over 30 Dutch beers on tap.

Knowing they would face a damp and dreary day I wanted to serve them a comforting meal for the evening so I choose this cozy bistro recipe from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (my favorite go to bistro bible).  I love serving this pork roast for a dinner party as most of the work is done by the brine rather than the cook!

My guests did arrive home soaked to the skin having experienced what we like to refer to as sideways rain.  They were very ready for a warm and comforting meal and when the roasted pork rib accompanied by potato puree and wine poached prunes appeared at their place I could tell I’d hit the mark.

The recipe for this delectable dish – brined crown pork roast.

MaryFrances has created exceptional wine pairings for this brined roast pork recipe and she invites us to enjoy a red or white wine.   She is so versatile!  I hope you enjoy her selections.

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Quinoa Salad with Edamame, Radishes and Avocado adapted from Plenty by Ottolenghi

A few weeks back I was engaged in eating my home made lunch at my desk, per usual, when my colleague Adam turned to me to say

“I am starving and I only have a ½ hr until my next meeting.”

“Well go get lunch at the canteen.” I said.

“I just can’t bear to eat that crap food.” He said.

“You have to eat, so stop being silly and go get a sandwich.”  I replied

“No, I just can’t bear it.  It’s such crap.”    He said.

Later in the afternoon I proposed a subversive idea.  We would pick a day, bring our home made lunch and eat away from our desks.  Only a few rules I said, no prepared store foods & definitely no chemicals in your food.  He agreed readily and that’s how I came to start a movement in our office.  It’s called the Subversive Wednesday Lunch.

Why subversive?  It seems that cooking your own food is one of the few ways to undermine the grip on the food market held by the huge processed food companies.    It is one way to gain back control of what you eat and the money you invest in food.

Our canteen has few offerings that I would consider to be whole food.  The salad bar is generally lettuce, canned tuna loaded with packaged mayonnaise, tinned olives, chickpeas, bean salad and if you’re lucky there might be a fresh tomato or two.  They do offer a salad of the day, which is generally better, but that’s it for fresh veg.

The remaining offerings are processed lunch meats, pate’s, fried croquettes, pasta with canned sauce, parboiled rice – well I could go on but you get the picture.  There are fruit juices, but I suspect it’s not exactly fresh squeezed so I’d hate to see the sugar content.

Is it their fault?  Yes and no.  Our canteen services are outsourced to a third party company via a global contract.  So I say it is their fault for not negotiating a better deal and insisting on more fresh foods on offer.  It is not their fault because the staff has little choice but to eat there.  There are neither refrigerators to keep your lunch cool nor microwaves to heat up your delicious leftovers from the evening before.

I have rarely eaten in the canteen since my arrival in the Netherlands.  Some of my colleagues thought me unsociable, but rather it is just that I am not easily coerced to eat bad food.   No matter how cheap it is – why bother?

I’m excited to say my movement is catching on, we are in our 4th week and we have now 6 persons thinking subversively. I’ve learned a lot about my workmates from lunching with them and it is exciting to see their enthusiasm for eating.  We’ve even found a secret outdoor courtyard where we can enjoy the sun, our delicious and nutritious lunches and get to know each other a little better.   I encourage you, my fellow foodie, to start behaving subversively as well.  Start with a small group of like minded people, make few food rules, show them your delicious side and watch the movement grow.

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I have been reading a lot lately about food.  I admit it is a becoming a bit of an obsession.  Eating, thinking, reading and writing about food.  Perhaps it is because the seasonal produce is arriving at the stores and the markets, or perhaps it’s simply because I have a one track mind (or stomach).  I was shelling peas this evening for dinner tonight and wondered if many people have access to such fresh ingredients in their home cities.  In Europe there are an abundance of markets and some specialty stores that carry peas so fresh they are still in the pod.  Although a bit of work, I find the process of shelling the peas quite therapeutic, even when one or two escape to the floor.

Seasons for the certain types of produce are short.  Before you realize it, the fresh peas (in June alone white asparagus, baby courgettes strawberries) are done, you didn’t realize what you missed and your opportunities to inflect some variety onto your table are over.  I think we’ve all been lured towards some of our favourite foods outside of their seasons – red strawberries or tomatoes in the grocery store – only to slice them open at home to reveal their lack of depth and substance of flavour.  If you’ve experienced the disappointment perhaps you need to get out of the grocery store this summer.

Much has been written about seasonal produce but are you and I changing our shopping habits during the height of the market months to shop outside the walls of the large chain stores?  Are we paying attention to what is popping up in the local farmers markets and buying our fruit and vegetables from the local sources?  I want try an experiment over the next 3 months that will see me shop for fresh produce at the organic market in Amsterdam.  I have all the good intentions of becoming an organic market shopper this summer but it is going to take some planning.  Working full-time with a 3 hour daily commute means there is little time to plan meals for the week ahead but given my obsession I do get it done.  Join me if you can.  Plan your shopping trip at the farmers this weekend, and look for some peas so you can enjoy this delicious and nutritious spring summer salad.

Peas featured in a simple but flavour packed spring salad, alongside roast poussin, on our dinner table tonight.  Fresh peas, radish and mache lettuce dressed with a honey cumin vinaigrette and feta cheese.  Although it would these are an odd combination, the marriage of flavours is divine.

Continue for recipe

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I’ve been pondering what I will do once I finish my Cordon Bleu diploma in November 2012.  As I think through the possibilities, one that intrigues me is owning a cooking school.  I believe that cooking is a life skill and although there are a plethora of cooking shows and Masterchef renditions, not many people actually learn to cook.

This journey to become a better cook began when I moved to Amsterdam.  My husband could see I was struggling to settle in our new life and suggested I take a few cooking classes.  Exploring hobbies or passions is always a great way to meet like-minded people and he’d found La Cuisine Française close by our home.

I embarked on 2 series of 6 lessons packages on Italian cuisine, met a couple of passionate foodie friends and then before I knew it I was obsessed and registering for Cordon Bleu in Paris.  I’ve kept in contact and become friends with Pat, the owner of the cooking school, over the past couple of years. This spring, post Intermediate Cuisine, I volunteered to be her assistant for her “Basics of French Cooking” series.

The series consists of 6 classes where the students are led through the foundations of French techniques.  The 6 classes were: Stock and fish fileting; Dressings and poaching; Pate’s and terrines; Eggs; Shellfish and roasting, and finally Game.  It’s an ambitious course and not for novices.  Although a number of the ingredients and most of the dessert recipes were new to me, I felt generally confident in assisting.

There were 14 students registered, a full slate, for the Monday evening class.  I was curious as to how Pat would progress through the full menu plan and what I was to help with. As she’s been an instructor for most of her career, this was all quite matter of fact for her.   Although for me, I was used to sitting back taking notes and planning my approach for the practical learning.

We met in advance of the first course where she provided a bit of guidance on where she would start and where I would assist in the demo.  Seems straight forward but when you are with a group often questions and plans shift and change to suit the crowd.  I found myself explaining chopping techniques for vegetables, gutting and fileting a fish and scurrying to remove dirty dishes.

When the demo was done after 1.5 hours the students then went to work to prepare the 6 dishes.  It was beyond challenging the first night to try and keep up with questions, make certain cutting boards were cleaned of raw fish before vegetables were chopped and that no one cut themselves!

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Cooking for those you love is always special – next time you can’t think of a gift to give someone special – cook a little something special for them from the heart!  My Dad’s cousin Quirina recently turned 80 and as her gift I offered to cook her and 3 guests a special French luncheon. As she is not so happy leaving her familiar environment, it seemed best to cook in her tiny Dutch kitchen. After the date was set, I asked her whether she preferred meat, chicken or fish. “I like fish” she declared and the planning began. Although she and her guests are getting on in years, they all continue to have very healthy appetites so I decided on a 4 course lunch. After a few deliberations, I came to the following menu (in Dutch, French and English – I am becoming so multi lingual ;)).

Zoete aardappelsoep met een essence van rozemarijn en mascarpone

Soupe de patates douces avec l’essence de romarin et de fromage mascarpone

Sweet potato soup with rosemary essence and mascarpone cheese

Parelhoen en koolraab “lasagne” met een balsamico reductie en morilles

Pintade et kolirabi “lasagne” réduction balsamique et morilles

Guinea Fowl Lasagna with morilles and a balsamique reduction

Wine: Nuβberg Alte Reben, Austria

Zwarte zee baars met zoete pastinaak, spinazie en saffraan vanillesaus

Loup de mer avec panais douces, les épinards et la sauce à la vanille au safran

Black Sea Bass with parsnip puree, spinach and vanilla saffron sauce

Wine: Domaine Jaeger-Defaix, Rully Burgundy, Frankrijk

Elzasser appeltaart

Tarte aux pommes alsacienne

Alsacian Apple Tart

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