On Cooking

Studying at Le Cordon Bleu Paris

Cooking is one of my life long passions. I find that it feeds both my artistic soul as well as my scientific interests. The art of cooking, in creating a masterpiece that is both visually and gastronomically appealing is a thrill. At the same time, one cannot be completely successful in the kitchen if the scientific aspect of cooking is not understood. The way leaveners are activated, the smoke point of oils, the way flour can be overworked to develop too much gluten, the point at which whipping cream becomes butter, all these things and many more must be understood and practiced in order to produce the best quality meal as possible.

My passion for cooking first came to me from my mother. She was a home economics teacher and a fabulous cook. At age 7, my family moved overseas to Tripoli, Libya, where my parents taught in the American school. Living in a place where there are no “fast food” establishments or even a pizzeria, my mother was left with the daunting task of having to prepare all of our meals. I loved watching her in the kitchen, the way she improvised when certain ingredients were not readily available to us in the stores or when she just didn’t have it in the house. My mother saw recipes as a starting point from which to launch her creativity, a suggestion of how to prepare the dish that she would then make her own. On the occasions when we would travel outside of Libya and go to delicious restaurants, she would study the meals we had, try to determine all the ingredients, so she could recreate them once we were home and couldn’t return to the establishment easily to have the dish again. Our shopping trips would always include the exciting adventure of trying to find items like oven proof bowls to make French Onion Soup or heatproof glasses to recreate Irish Coffee. I know it was an extra burden on my mom to cook ALL the time for us, but she made it fun and delicious. And best of all, she taught me how to cook so I could help her – a task that I loved to do and have all my life. I wasn’t so crazy about the cleaning up part, but you have to take the good with the bad. Thank goodness for dishwashers!

One of the best things about growing up overseas was my exposure to so many different types of cuisine. I can remember my first taste of wienerschnitzel in Germany, the first time I tried Calamari in Greece (I thought they were onion rings), and the first time I sipped French Onion Soup in Paris. These experiences helped to shape my palette and my appreciation of all types of food and preparation methods. It was a priceless education, which I feel lucky to have had.

The great thing about this passion is that I never stop learning more about it. Through college as a Food and Hotel major I learned to hone my technique and about cooking for large groups of people. As a breakfast Chef in a restaurant in college I learned the pace of a professional kitchen and getting orders out timely, hot, and delicious. I’ve had side businesses such as catering and cake decorating and through it all I learn more and more. I’ve been inspired by teachers, my friends, meals I’ve had, professional Chefs and TV personalities like Ina Garten, Tyler Florence and the infamous Julia Child.

The all time pursuit of my dreams has been this trip to Paris and taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. I have learned so much in the past 5 weeks that I can’t even put it into words. I definitely want to return for more. Not only have the classes been a learning experience but the restaurants, cafes, patisseries, and the boulangeries of Paris have inspired and educated me. It has been so exciting to see the items that we learn to cook in class in the pastry shops and I always think to myself, I can make that now!

Cooking is a personal thing for each person. Some people I’ve met find it difficult, some find it a chore or task that must be done on a daily basis, others see it as a hobby or a profession. Whatever cooking means to you, I hope you can find the joy in it, whether you think you’re good at it or not. I have a friend who LOVES to sing. She’s not very good at it and she knows it’s not her strong suit. She always apologetic about singing around me but I don’t care that she’s not a very good singer. I love to see the joy on her face and the happiness it brings her when she sings. Learning to cook can bring the same joy to a person and it’s my goal on this blog to help you learn how to cook and to have a good time at it!

In honor of National Chocolate Covered Peanut day, let’s make something easy and Delish!

Chocolate Covered Peanuts

1 bag of Chocolate Chips (12 oz)

1 bag of Butterscotch Chips (6 oz)

1 heaping tablespoon peanut butter (creamy or chunky – it’s your creative choice)

1 pound Peanuts (or cashews, almonds, whatever you like)

Pour Chocolate and Butterscotch chips into a heat proof bowl. Melt chips either in microwave or over a double boiler. When chocolate mixture is completely melted, remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and the nuts. Spoon out chocolate covered nuts onto waxed paper or parchment paper. Let cool till set and hardened. Enjoy!

A bientôt mes amis!

Audience Participation

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Delish Restaurant Food!

Bonjour mes amis!
I have been a trainer/teacher for much of my career and one of my favorite things to do in a class is create opportunities for participation. It’s usually a lot of fun and the great thing – we all get to learn! So here goes…

I’ve been in Paris now for 4 weeks. As I’ve said before I’m having the time of my life but there is something that is difficult. Deciding what restaurants to try! There are sooooooo many. I’ve read guide books, foodie recommendations, even my girl Ina’s Barefoot in Paris has great recommendations. I’ve also had some recommendations from fellow bloggers – Thanks – or rather Merci Becoming Madame!! What I find is that anyone who has been to Paris has a favorite or two – or more.

So my idea is… If you have a favorite restaurant or 3 :) in Paris, respond to this post with a comment and tell us all about them. There is no limit to the number you can recommend! Please include as much info as possible such as name of restaurant, type of food served, location, what Metro stop is nearest, etc and why you love it. In a week or so I’ll compile a whole list and post it. I’ll also try to sample as many as I can and give my 2 cents.

I look forward to your recommendations as does everyone following this blog!

Thanks in advance for your participation!!
A bientot!

Valentine’s Day and Chocolate

Enjoy the video cast and the pictures

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Making French Macaron

The days results...

So… One of the classes I was most looking forward to taking when coming to Paris was a class on making French Macaron. They can be tricky to make so I wanted to learn all the secrets and tricks from the Professionals! Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the class being offered at Le Cordon Bleu was full. I wanted to cry! I’ve been on the waiting list for 4 weeks now but all the same I had to do something about it!

Some of the students at Le Cordon Bleu mentioned to me that there are many other cooking schools in Paris (duh – I should have thought of that!) and they may offer the same course. So a few quick Google searches and Voila! I found an alternative. My first choice was Alain Ducasse who is a major Chef here in Paris. He offers cooking courses through his culinary empire but… the classes at his school are only offered in French. – Merde! My French isn’t good enough for that yet…

Next, I found La Cuisine Paris! Their school is located in the Marais right near my friend’s apartment. They have a macaron class AND they had an opening!! What a BLAST I had in this class! It was taught in English only to my surprise, could be that only English-speaking students signed up. Our teacher, Chef Jenny, is an accomplished Pastry Chef who is American and did her training in Boston. She married a Frenchman and is now living in Paris. She has worked in many fabulous pastry shops here in Paris – including the famous Ladurée, known throughout Paris for the “best” macaron. She is such a good teacher, funny and personable, she had great stories for us, as well as fantastic tips and techniques.

The other students in the class ranged from college students studying in Paris to tourists, as well as residents of Paris new and old. We all seemed to click together and the atmosphere in the class was just fantastic.

We made two flavors; milk chocolate passion fruit and white chocolate raspberry. YUM! We worked in groups to prepare the ingredients. My group had the Milk Chocolate Passion Fruit filling so we set out to make it. As soon as the passion fruit puree started heating up, the room was filled with its delicious aroma and everyone started commenting on how good it smelled. We poured the boiling passion fruit mixture over the milk chocolate chunks to melt it and then added pieces of butter as we whisked it all into submission. Filling two pastry bags with our result, we tied them off and put them in the fridge to cool and set.

We used the Italian meringue method to make our macaron, which means you pour boiling hot sugar syrup into egg whites that are mixing in the stand mixer. You could do this by hand as well but it’s a little challenging. The glossy whipped meringue is then folded into a paste made of ground almonds, powdered sugar, egg whites (unbeaten) and coloring. This is a tricky stage because if you over mix it and deflate the egg whites, the cookies will spread too much when you pipe them out so you have to be very patient.

Our batter came out perfectly under the guiding eyes of our teacher. She showed it to the other half of the class saying, “this is the perfect consistency for your batter.” We all high fived each other in our group…

Piping out the cookies into perfectly shaped and even disks is another challenge. Once they are backed and cooled two of these pillowy cookies will sandwich a delicious filling so there has to be a perfect match for sandwiching. After some practice, we got it down. We even made some heart shaped cookies as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. You’ll see in the pictures that we even combined the two different colored batters to make bull’s eye macaron.

Baking the shells is the final tricky step. If you undercook them, they deflate and are so sticky that it’s impossible to get off the parchment paper. If you over bake them, they crack and fall apart. Thankfully with our expert Chef’s guidance, our shells came out perfectly and the last step of letting them cool to fill them was under way.

French Macaron are a bit tricky to make but the results are heavenly and worth the effort.

Now one of the biggest secrets of French Macaron making is that you shouldn’t eat them right away. They should be refrigerated for at lease 24 hours to develop their flavor and texture. You can eat them right away but they will be dry and not as delicious. My 24 hours is almost up and I can’t wait to dive into them tonight!!

So even though I was disappointed in not being able to take the class at Le Cordon Bleu, it still all worked out in the end. I had a fantastic learning experience, some awesome macaron to take home with me, I made some new friends, and I had an experience at a different cooking school here in Paris – ce magnifique!

Bon Appetite mes amis!

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Cooking with Champagne – you’re gonna love it!

The word champagne makes most people think FUN, party, celebration, romance, giggle, kiss, Woo Hoo!! Just the sound of the cork popping makes your eyes open wide and your heart fill with happiness. Cooking with champagne is even more exciting!

One of the classes I attended this past week was for food of the Champagne region of France. The only place from which sparkling wine can legally be called Champagne according to the French. Every dish in the menu has champagne in it and let me tell you – each is absolutely FABULOUS!

Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart

The starter is a Leek and Chaource Cheese Tart. Chaource cheese is also from the Champagne region and looks like a thick brie cheese. It has a stronger flavor than brie but not quite as strong as camembert cheese. The tart is made with a short crust pastry which is pre-baked slightly. Leeks are diced and softened in champagne and butter then they line the bottom of the tart shell. The cheese is sliced and fanned out over the top of the leeks beautifully leaving gaps for the filling. The filling is made with eggs and heavy cream and poured over the top just to come to the top of the cheese. Once baked it is creamy, yummy, delish! – and when you eat it the cheese oozes out to add to the creamy texture of the filling. When I tasted it in class I made the “mmmmmmm” sound much to my embarrassment as I saw the other students look my way with amusement.

Sole Fillet and Whiting Mousseline with Champagne Beurre Blanc

The main course is Fillet of Sole stuffed with a Whiting mousseline. It is rolled into a pipe shape and poached in stock or in water then served with a Champagne Beurre Blanc sauce. Beurre blanc is a heavenly white butter sauce usually made with butter, shallots, white wine and vinegar. In this case, it’s made with champagne. The milk solids from the butter get suspended with the acids from the champagne and vinegar which creates a thick and creamy texture. A little fresh champagne is added to the sauce just before serving so there is fresh flavor and some effervescence. Let me just tell you, I am not usually a fan of fish. I could eat this dish EVERY day!! It’s that good. The sweetness from the butter and the cream balanced by the acidity of the shallots and the champagne along with the slight effervescence and the saltiness from the fish stock creates a taste sensation in your mouth that is transformational. OOOOO la la la la la la as they say in Paris!

Champagne Sorbet

For dessert we have Champagne sorbet scented with lemon and orange accompanied by orange scented Madeleines – VERY French and VERY tasty. A light, tasty perfect ending to a fabulous meal. And yes, there is some champagne in the Madeleine batter.

I often use champagne when I’m cooking at home. Sometimes I open the fridge to grab some white wine to add to a sauce or roasting dish; even to vegetables I’m sautéing. Many a time I have grabbed an open bottle of champagne instead of the white wine and I have always been please with the result. Now I know at least ONE of my friends is saying, “leftover champagne?! Quell dommage! Who would have leftover champagne!!” It does happen from time to time… Try it – you’ll love it!

Happy cooking my friends!!

Inverted Puff Pastry

Whenever I hear the words “Puff Pastry” the first thing I hear in my head is YUUUUUUUUM!!

This week, I learned about inverted puff pastry. To be honest, I have never made my own puff pastry. I’ve always purchased the frozen package in the grocery store and wrapped up my brie or cocktail sausages, baked them off and called it a day. I’ve watched many a TV Chef make puff pastry by creating a dough, wrapping it around an obscene amount of butter, then roll it out, fold it in three, roll it out, etc. until there are more than 50 layers of butter sandwiched between the dough. When you bake it, the steam that releases from the butter makes the pastry rise into a light, flaky, heavenly wonder.

Inverted puff pastry has the butter layer on the outside of the dough. How is this done I hear you ask? By kneading flour into the cold butter, rolling it out and chilling it before enrobing the dough layer. The same process of rolling and folding ensues to create this dough, which produces the same flaky deliciousness. Why then would you invert it you ask? The inverted puff pastry is easier to work with. It doesn’t shrink as much when you’re working with it and isn’t as temperamental.

I was expecting, since this was a pastry course I was observing, that we would make sweet treats. But, I was pleasantly surprised. A delicious spread of 7 different savory treats were produced by our very talented Chef. This was fantastic for two reasons. One, everything was super delish! Two, I didn’t need to make dinner that night! YAY!

Here are the fabulous treats that were created.

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A bientôt mes amis!

Lamb, Veal and French Macaroons

Friday was an AMAZING day. I observed a course on French Regional Cooking where a lamb dish was prepared. I participated in an evening class on French Regional Cooking where we prepared a braised veal dish with stuffed cabbage. And in between the two classes, I went to visit and purchase French Macaroons at the Gucci of Macaroon Patisseries, Ladurée.

First the Lamb dish. I grew up not eating much lamb. Mostly because my father didn’t like it so my mother never made it. I had tried it from time to time in restaurants by taking a bite of a friend’s dish. Sometimes I enjoyed it, sometimes – not so much. It wasn’t till about 5 years ago when I was in Cape May, NJ, that I discovered lamb that I found DELISH! My friends Mark and Elliot took me to a restaurant there where they had a stuffed lamb chop that was heavenly. So with that said, I have never made lamb and wanted to learn about its preparation.

Braised Lamb with onion and potato

This dish is from the Ile-de-France region of France, which is the outskirts of Paris. The dish was prepared in class using the chops from the shoulder region of the lamb. These 5 ribs are not the most popular set of the 13 that a lamb has to offer. The other 8 are the chops that most people look to purchase. Because the shoulder region chops are not as tender, they would be slow cooked in a deliciously flavored stock. The chops are cut double thick, one of the bones is removed, then the chops are browned and layered in a dutch oven with sliced potatoes, caramelized onions and a lamb stock. This is served with a mashed potato and leek “cannelloni” which is basically the mashed potato and leek puree piped into the blanched outer layer of a leek and rolled to look like cannelloni.

Potato and Leek Cannelloni

The amazing aroma that wafts our way as the chef was preparing this dish thoroughly distracted me from making my notes. Even the students who attend these kind of classes regularly were saying “today is going to be a great tasting!” My stomach started to growl as I turned my attention back to hurriedly making my notes so I could make this at home.

When we finally go to taste this dish, I was enraptured! I vowed right then and there to make more lamb and especially this dish! The dish is layered with sliced potatoes on the bottom, then a layer of caramelized onion, the browned chops, caramelized onions again, then topped with more sliced potatoes arranged beautifully on top. A piece of parchment paper to cover then the lamb stock gently ladled over just till the top layer of potatoes is covered. Into the oven to cook slowly – ideally all day on a low oven – but for class at a higher temperature for 45 minutes. Words can’t do this dish justice!

My Braised Veal creation - The Chef said "How beautiful!"

The veal is also a slow braise using cuts that need to be slow cooked. We coat our veal with salt, pepper, and dust it in flour. Browned on both sides to a lovely hazelnut color, we remove it from the pan to create the braising liquid. We add chopped onion, carrots and mushrooms to the sauté pan that we just browned the meat in and let them caramelize slightly before we deglaze the pan with Pinot Noir (yum!). After this reduces a bit, we add veal stock and return the veal to the pan and cover for a nice braise for 50 min. The flour from the chops thickens the braise slightly to creates a fantastic velvety sauce. We strain our sauce and add fresh veggies – carrot, daikon radish and mushrooms and simmer them to the texture of our choice. Check our sauce for seasoning and pour it over the veal in our aluminum pan we’re using to transport our treasure home. The Chef insists that we wait until tomorrow night to reheat and eat it. He says the flavor will be MUCH better the next day. And… He’s right! I ate it the next night with a friend to rave reviews. I will definitely be making this when I get back home!

French Macaroons are a bit of heaven here on earth!

In the US, when you say “macaroon” people immediately think of the coconut macaroon that has been a part of the American diet for years. French macaroons are entirely different. Pillowy small clouds of brightly colored meringue that has almond powder mixed into it and baked to the perfect texture sandwich a delicious filling. They come in all different colors and flavors and when I see a variety box of them, it reminds me of a box of jewels. French macaroons are becoming very popular in the United States. I actually heard someone say that they are becoming the new cupcake – and I would agree!

In Paris when you mention the work “macaron” (French spelling), the immediate response is Ladurée. Although you can find macaron in almost every patisserie in Paris, Parisians assert that Ladurée is the only place you should buy them. At more than twice the price, I had to see if they were worth it.

Macaron Ladurée

I went to Ladurée on rue Royale as it is near the Metro stop Concorde where I change trains almost everyday. As I walk down rue Royale, I see I’m in a very swanky part of town. Gucci, L’Oreal Paris, and other high-end boutiques line the street. As I cross the street to get to Ladurée, I see there is a line outside the door. It’s cold but I figure, what the heck, I’m here and I’m dying to try these macaron. Once I get into the shop, it is beautiful. There are many other types of pastry here, but I’m only after macaron today. The woman who waits on me is very helpful. There are so many different flavors and choices it’s difficult to make decisions. I decide to let her create a variety box for me. She packages them in a beautiful box that she ties a ribbon on and presents to me with pride.

Once home, I let them come to room temperature before I dive in. They are definitely worth the price. The texture is crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and the fillings are perfectly flavored. The most unique is the bergamot, which flavors earl grey tea if you’re familiar with that. I also love the rose flavor. Please check out the Ladurée website to see all their delicious flavors. Those of you that live in NYC will be happy to know that they have opened one there!

Ah bon mes amis. My experiences in Paris keep getting more and more enjoyable. All these new techniques and flavors excite my pallet and inspire my creative mind. I do have a kitchen in the apartment I’m staying in but it is really not equipped to try many of these recipes. I look forward to getting back to my own well-equipped and stocked kitchen to create some of these delicious dishes for you – on camera.

Au revoir for now!

Shopping for Cooking Equipment

Today I set out to do one of my favorite things – shop for cooking gadgets, equipment, supplies – stuff.  Although it was VERY cold here in Paris today, I was not going to let that deter me.  Admittedly, this shopping spree was tame in comparison to most in terms of the amount of “stuff” that I bought.  But, I’m here for a month and have plenty of time to fill another suitcase or two with cooking supplies that I can’t live without!

Financier - Almond Tart

I have watched the Chefs at Le Cordon Bleu use many items in the  kitchens.  Most of the equipment I’m very familiar with.  Some of the items they are using are new to me and I just had to have them!!  The school, being very helpful indeed, has a printed list of all the places in Paris they recommend such as libraries, dining, ice cream shops, patisseries, and… cooking utensils.  Thankfully, many of the places they recommend for cooking equipment are all near each other in the 1st arrondissement* near Les Halles – the center of Paris.

In the video blog below, I show you each of my exciting purchases.  I’m sure I’ll be blogging again with more purchases that I’ve made before I return to my own kitchen…

Enjoy!  Au Revoir!

* Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements which are neighborhoods basically defined by the postal codes.  You’ll hear people say, “I live in the 7th” or “that shop is located in the 15th.”

My First Class at Le Cordon Bleu

Bonjour mes amis!

The first class I observed at Le Cordon Bleu was thrilling.  I’m here, in PARIS, and I’m at Le Cordon Bleu!!  It was almost too much.  Of course I barely slept the night before – and not just from the 6 hour time difference.  Even though I was excited to be taking these classes, how would all the others receive me?  Would the Chefs/Teachers welcome me, what would all these students who are in full chef uniforms and shoes think of this guy in his street clothes furiously taking notes.  But then, I thought, this was too important for me to worry about all that stuff.

I arrived to a very warm welcome at the reception desk.  The staff are very helpful and kind.  Some of the courses I want to take are full but they assure me they’ll check everyday to see if there is a cancellation and squeeze me in.  (It’s already happened twice!)

For the observation course that day, I am given a packet with a pen, pages with the ingredient items and measurements, some blank sheets of paper, but no cooking method.  I’m to watch every move the Chef makes and write down the technique, the methodology, and the wisdom of many years of professional experience these Chefs share.  And share they do.  In one 2 and a half hour observation, I learn more than I can express.  This first class is a specialty desserts Pastry class and unbeknownst to me when I signed up, it’s a superior level course.

YUM

The Chef makes two different flavors of ice cream and three different types of dessert in total.  All in under 3 hours.  It’s AWESOME.  He moves quickly but I’m able to follow his every move and capture all his wisdom.  He checks in often with the students to ensure they will be able to re-create what he is doing in their practical.  He speaks in French and there is another staff member in the room translating into English.  It takes me back to my days as a Sign Language Interpreter.

Sadly in the classes that I’m only observing, I won’t be able to prepare the things I’m furiously taking notes over at the school.  However, as soon as I get to a kitchen, I’m going to be practicing!

I know by the end of my day that this was absolutely the right thing for me to do.  Although I’m a little out of my comfort zone, I’m inspired by what I’m learning and I feel my creative spirit being lifted to a new level.  I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen – and I can’t wait to get the feedback from my willing taste testers!