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Classes » digest LA
sur la table class

Learning to quenelle whipped cream

I am still getting the hang of working classes at Sur La Table while still getting pics to share. On Monday, I worked the Eating Local: Casual Summer Dinner class. All of the recipes we made were from Sur La Table’s Eating Local cook book.

I worked the first course; Summer Squash Carpaccio with Arugula, Pecorino, and Almonds. We basically shaved zucchini very thin with a mandoline, added arugula and made a lemon vinaigrette. We garnished the salad with pecorino and toasted almonds. It was very summery, but a bit bland for my tastes. I would through in some bacon.

We made Grilled Country Pork Chops with Bourbon-Basted Grilled Peaches. Oh the grilled peaches. Delicious. We also made a Yellow Tomato Gazpacho. I usually don’t love gazpacho, but this one was amazing. Dense bread is blended in with the soup, which really makes a wonderful texture.

Warm Cornmeal Shortcake with Farm Stand Berries

Warm Cornmeal Shortcake with Farm Stand Berries

We finished with Warm Cornmeal Shortcake with Farm Stand Berries. Oh I love me a good corn cake.

It has been a long week and a half since I got back from Cannes. I haven’t had the energy to take a single picture. Last Friday, I started working as a sous chef for the culinary classes at Sur La Table taught by Chef Martin Gilligan. I have to pause here and say that none of the views expressed by me or on this blog represent the views of Sur La Table. So, with that out of the way, man being a sous chef is hard. The first class I worked on was Recipe’s from LA’s Top Chefs. I was in charge of Govind Armstrong’s Truffled Gruyere Fondue. Fondue was definitely an easy start for me. The class was still hard work. It was a whirlwind of running around and doing dishes. When we paused to taste the dishes, the food was amazing. I can’t wait to try to makeBen Ford’s Crispy Flattened Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Black-Eyed Peas Succotash. I am not sure if I will make it, but Nancy Silverton’s Butterscotch Budino with Caramel Sauce and Rosemary Pine Nut Cookies is pretty darn delicious.

The next class I covered was a knife skills course. Knife skills? No problem, I got skillz. The thing with the class is that the chef teaches everyone knife skills while the sous chefs whip up dinner for all the students with the veggies that they have been cutting. I really enjoyed the pace of this class. We improvised and made a butternut squash soup, glazed carrots, potato gratin, penne with tomato relish and french fries with truffle oil. Everything turned out really well and I got to say to someone, “oh you want me to chiffonade that?”

chefs working with liquid nitrogen

Chef Whitney Werner and Chef Martin Gilligan working with liquid nitrogen

I am just back from a very long Molecular Gastronomy class at Sur La Table. Maybe it was because it was my fourth class in two months, but I wasn’t feeling this one as much. We did make an amazing NY Strip Steak with a coffee rub and parsnip puree. I also learned why my reverse spherification turned out so awful. It ends up I used Calcium Chloride instead of Calcium Gluconate. How silly of me. The teacher, Chef Whitney Werner, said that Calcium Chloride is toxic! Luckily for me, I don’t think that is true. It does, however, taste awful.

We used a different technique for reverse spherification in this class. The juice to be spherized was frozen in a half sphere shape. It was then dropped in a hot batch of sodium alginate. I am not really clear on why the algin was hot, but freezing the juice means that you don’t have to worry about creating perfect spheres.

On foam… We made foam in this class for the roasted beet salad. It turns out, that you make foam exactly the way I accidentally made foam the other day. You use an immersion blender and introduce air to the mixture and et voila. You got foam. I don’t think I will be making any foam in the near future, but at least I know I am an idiot savant of foam making.

Some pictures from the class

Roasted beets with Walnut Tuile and Parmesan Air

Roasted beets with Walnut Tuile and Parmesan Air

This was pretty delicious actually. I have made tuiles before, but not since I got a Silpat so it may be time. The beets were delicious and I loved the dressing with shallots.

Coffee Rubbed New York Striploin with Cauliflower and Parsnip and Rocky Mountain Wild Blueberry Spheres

Coffee Rubbed New York Striploin with Cauliflower and Parsnip and Rocky Mountain Wild Blueberry Spheres

This was by far the winner of the night. The rub on the steak was delicious, but the sauce that Chef Gilligan made was amazing. Also, who doesn’t love a good cauliflower and parsnip puree?

Swordfish and Cous Cous Involtini with Yuzu Foam and Blood Orange Gastrique

Swordfish and Cous Cous Involtini with Yuzu Foam and Blood Orange Gastrique

I wasn’t a big fan of this one because I just didn’t love the taste of the swordfish. I did learn, however, that you can make your own cous cous at home.

Chef Gilligan Pouring Liquid Nitrogen

Chef Gilligan Pouring Liquid Nitrogen

I think this is how chefs have fun.

Chef Gilligan Plating French Toast

Chef Gilligan Plating French Toast

I would like to say that I signed up for Sur La Table’s “Special Brunch Favorites for Mom” class because I was dying to learn some brunch recipes, but really I was excited that Chef Gilligan sent the email about it to his “favorite students”. I was a little weepy about being away from my sister on her first Mother’s Day and figured the class would pass the time. I ended up enjoying an amazing five course brunch.

Normally there is so much going on in these classes that I just pitch in on some task like chopping vegetables. This time I quickly scanned the menu and realized that the biggest thing that I didn’t know how to do was poach eggs. Maybe if I knew how to poach eggs, it would cure me of my impulse to buy a $450 sous vide machine to make egg 63.

I set myself up by the giant bowl of eggs and made sure that no one could knock me off my task. First I focused on cracking eggs according to the sous chef’s instructions. Instead of cracking them on an edge of a bowl, I hit them once on the table and used my fingers to open the shell. As silly as it seems to practice cracking eggs, this technique was awesome. No shells in my eggs. Next I learned how to drop the eggs in the hot water to get the perfect “pouch.” There was nothing really to it besides slowly dropping the egg in the water and then taking it out before the yolk was too set. I may tempt fate and plan a brunch housewarming party and make some some eggs benedict. I guess I better learn how to make Hollandaise sauce. Of the five courses, quiche with truffle sauce was by far my favorite. The chocolate butter with the french toast was also pretty amazing. Chef Gilligan said you can keep chocolate butter for a month in your fridge, like that’s what I need to have floating around my kitchen mmm… chocolate butter…

Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad with Mango and Fresh Berries Drizzled with Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette

First couse: Butter Leaf Lettuce Salad with Mango and Fresh Berries Drizzled with Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette

Second Course: Brioche French Toast with Chocolate Butter and Vermont Maple Syrup

Wild Mushroom Quiche with Truffle Cream Sauce

Third Course: Wild Mushroom Quiche with Truffle Cream Sauce

Crab Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce

Fourth Course: Crab Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce

New York Cheesecake with Sour Cherry Sauce

Fifth Course: New York Cheesecake with Sour Cherry Sauce

Happy Mother’s Day Joanna and Mom! I wish we could have taken the class together.

It is funny the types of things that irritate you about someone after living with them for years. It is like the more you love them, the more irritating they become. No, I am not about to badmouth my ex. Actually, I was talking about myself. I think the two things that drove James nuts the most were 1) I love using as many bowls as possible when cooking and 2) I always forget to salt food. Now I know these are both pretty unforgivable things. I think that growing up watching cooking shows with my dad, I loved all the tiny bowls filled with perfectly chopped veggies. I just never really thought about who has to wash all those bowls. And salt, well sorry mom, but you weren’t the best at salting food yourself.

For those reasons, Egg 63 with Ratatouille and Salt Glazed Potatoes is the best recipe for me to make. I “learned” this recipe when I took a cooking class a few weeks ago with Marcel Vigneron at Sur La Table. The reasons are that first of all, all of the vegetables in the ratatouille are diced (knife skillz, ding) and then cooked individually before cooking them all together for an hour. That means they have to wait in individual bowls for their turn in the pan. And the potatoes are cooked using a method (I forget the name) where you boil them in very salty water (like sea water) until all of the water is boiled away, leaving you with delicious salt-glazed potatoes. I can’t forget the salt in that recipe because it is a main ingredient. Egg 63 is a soft boiled egg cooked at 63 degrees celsius, which is supposed to be the best temperature to cook all the different bits in the egg. Without an immersion circulator, I had to rely on the old fashioned method of a thermometer, a stove, and cold water to regulate the temperature.

ratatouilleThree grueling hours later I had really delicious ratatouille, eggs with overcooked yolks and really really salty potatoes (some salt water ratio was way off).

Here is the finished product. I “plated” with the egg, but then took it off because it was terrible. The saltiness of the potatoes was really nice in the ratatouille, but I definitely have to fix the salt to water ratio next time.

cooking eggsFor egg 63, I would need an immersion circulator or a sous vide machine to even bother trying again. Granted, this candy thermometer technique was a pretty half-assed attempt to begin with. On the plus side, cooking sous vide requires a vacuum-sealing system, which appeals to my faux obsessive compulsive tendencies and love of gadgets. I can’t wait to vacuum seal everything.

Regarding my inability to remember salt, I bought the teeniest Le Creuset pot that they make and filled it with kosher salt. I keep it next to the stove. I like that it makes me feel like a real chef to grab a pinch of salt and throw it in the pan. Plus it is so cute, how could I ever forget salt again?


i am supreme!

The most useful cooking class I have taken so far was the knife skills class I took at Brooklyn Kitchen back in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. I learned the proper way to hold a knife and how to cut vegetables like onions, tomatoes and peppers.  At the end of class, the teacher quickly showed us how to supreme a grapefruit. On Top Chef they always mention supremes, but I never had any idea what it meant. Chef Brendan McDermott said, once you eat grapefruit this way, you will never go back.

I was interested, but I haven’t eaten grapefruit since Friday night dinners at my Bobe’s house. At the beginning of every single shabbat meal, she served half a grapefruit with canned fruit salad in the center. (I am not sure I didn’t just make up that canned fruit salad bit, but the grapefruit part is true.) I guess she learned to love grapefruit from her 20-some years living in Cuba, but her Philadelphia grapefruit never really won me over. Now that I am in LA, I have started to pick up a grapefruit from the store about once a week, supreme it and eat it for a quick and delicious dessert. Chef Brendan was right!

You can learn how to supreme fruit lots of places on the interwebs. Like…

Once you master supremes, you can make a citrus salad with different grapefruit, oranges, and avocados over boston lettuce with a dressing made from shallots, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Thanks to my sister for the citrus salad idea. She is pretty much the source for all my recipes.

Recently I took a cooking class with Marcel Vigneron at Sur La Table. I previously made fun of LA for being celebrity-obsessed, but I do have to admit that I took this class just because Marcel had been on Top Chef season 2. I started watching Top Chef at the end of that season. In fact, I think the infamous hair shaving episode was the first episode I ever saw. So I didn’t have any strong feelings for Marcel one way or the other, but I was excited to take a class with a Top Chef.

I didn’t expect to learn anything useful, but I thought it would be fun. The class was rescheduled with short notice because of Marcel’s time commitments to his new gig at Bar 210. Thanks to that change only a really small group ended up taking the class. On top of that, Marcel was about the nicest person you could imagine. He kept everyone busy working on recipes and was pretty charming. Okay, I did get a little crush when we shared a potato (my sister just rolled her eyes when she read that). So while we got the super small class with hands on attention, I did notice from another blog that he brought Chef Ludovic Lefebvre (from Top Chef Masters) as his sous chef the last time he taught the class. Well, at least I got to share a potato.

Anyway, surprise surprise, I loved the class and went home with 2 to 3 completely viable recipes to make at home. My favorite was Egg 63 with ratatouille (and potatoes!) that I am going to make for my sister when I visit in a few weeks. We also made deboned chicken wings stuffed with blue cheese that I will make as soon as the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. Last we made a pine nut bizcocho in the microwave that I loved, but it requires a soda syphon. No big deal, except I just bought a Soda Stream. Does my kitchen require this much carbonation?

So of all these recipes, I decided to try the one I thought I would never make – grape spheres with peanut butter powder brioche toast. This recipe involves creating a thin membrane around a sphere of grape juice so that you can place it as a solid “jelly” on your brioche, but it explodes back into juice when you put it in your mouth. For this recipe, you need to purchase some chemicals to create the membrane. The grape spheres are created using a reverse spherification process, which means calcium is added to the grape juice and the mixture is then “cooked” in water that contains sodium alginate.

these are the wrong shape

I mixed up my chemicals the day before as per the instructions. I added Xantham gum to thicken the grape juice and Calcium Chloride. The first problem came when I opened the grape juice and found a thick layer of foam from the immersion blender. I am not making foam, I am making spheres!

First, I tried skimming the foam off. Every time I dropped the grape juice into the algin, I ended up with silly string shapes instead of spheres.

The I made the mistake of tasting one. It was disgusting. Like a salty seaweed blob. The I remembered that Marcel said something about soaking it in grape juice in case the spheres are going to absorb any flavors. So I put my blobs in grape juice and soldiered on.

Next, I tried dropping the grape juice with foam into the algin. The foam made the grape juice more buoyant and it formed spheres. However, the spheres had little tails that made them impossible to pick up with a slotted spoon. The tail would slip through the slot and the whole thing would break open. I remember Marcel using scissors to cut off the tails, so I started trying that next. With foam and scissors, I managed to make one remotely sphere-like shape from the entire batch of grape juice.

perfection... not really

Heady with the triumph on my one sphere-ish shape, I decided to give up and just make lots of tiny spheres (like caviar) because that was easy enough to do. I used up the rest of the juice making grape caviar and soaked it all in grape juice.

After all this, I just didn’t have it in me to attempt to powder-ize peanut butter. Peanut butter is fine, in fact, that is how we had it in class. I toasted some brioche from the farmer’s market, spread on the peanut butter, and delicately placed grape blobs on each. I was kind of hungry by this point anyway, so I grabbed a piece of toast and… still completely disgusting. Why am I making these?

Now that I have that recipe out of the way, I can try to make one of the recipes that I actually wanted to make from the class. If you want to try this for some reason, here is an Instructable for making carrot caviar.


UPDATE: I found out later that I had used Calcium Chloride in the grape juice, which is not meant for consumption. I should have used Calcium Gluconate. That is why this recipe tasted so bad.